Institutional barriers and opportunities for improving policy approaches to reducing excess reactive nitrogen from U.S. agriculture

Otto C. Doering III

Agricultural Economics Dept., Purdue University, 403 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN, USA,


Agriculture in the U.S. is the major source of anthropogenic reactive nitrogen. The control and management of this nitrogen is a major challenge. The challenge is magnified by the nature of the nitrogen cascade; the ability of nitrogen to change form and move between land, air and water. This is only one of the factors making excess reactive nitrogen a wicked problem. The U.S. Environmental protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are major players in dealing with reactive nitrogen and have different institutional histories, responsibilities, and structures. Yet, in order to effectively manage and control reactive nitrogen these institutions and their activities are going to have to encompass and mirror the nitrogen cascade. Institutions that internally have barriers between segments of the cascade will have to overcome them. Parts of the cascade that involve other institutions will have to be coordinated with those institutions. To accomplish this there has to be the coordination of functions carried out by the two primary agencies. This is made all the more difficult by the fact that EPA plays a regulatory role in contrast to the Department of Agriculture’s supportive sectoral role.