For Immediate Release
Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity
(415) 436-9682 x 308 or (510) 845-6703 (cell)
EPA Agrees to Review Ocean Acidification Impacts Under Clean Water Act:
Agency Will Analyze Effects of CO2 Emissions on Water Quality
for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) has agreed to review how ocean acidification should be addressed
under the federal Clean Water Act. Ocean acidification, the "other CO2 problem," results from the ocean's absorption of excess CO2
in the atmosphere, which increases the acidity of the ocean and changes
the chemistry of seawater. The primary known consequence of ocean
acidification is that it impairs the ability of marine animals to build
and maintain the protective shells and skeletons they need to survive.
The Center sought to compel EPA to impose stricter pH standards for
ocean water quality and publish guidance to help states protect U.S.
waters from ocean acidification. The pH water-quality criterion is
relevant to preventing ocean acidification because it is the measure of
seawater acidity against which many states gauge the need to impose
regulations on pollution.
EPA's formal response to
the Center's petition sets out a public process to evaluate ocean
acidification's impacts on water quality, as well as to determine
whether the current water-quality criterion for pH should be modified
to address ocean acidification. EPA also agreed to develop biological
assessment methods and other technical guidance relating to evaluation
of the health of coral reefs, which are particularly threatened by
"Global warming's evil twin,
ocean acidification, is the most insidious threat to our ocean
ecosystems," said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the Center for
Biological Diversity's oceans program. "EPA's commitment to review its
water-quality criterion in light of ocean acidification marks an
important step toward taking action under the Clean Water Act to begin
to address this perilous threat."
acidification is emerging as a primary threat to our oceans. In the
past few decades, the oceans have absorbed approximately 30 percent of
the CO2 released by human activities. The world's oceans store about 50 times more CO2 than the atmosphere, and most CO2 released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels will eventually be absorbed by the ocean. As the ocean absorbs CO2
from the atmosphere it changes the chemistry of seawater by lowering
its pH. Surface ocean pH has already dropped by about 0.1 units on the
pH scale from 1750-1994 - a rise in acidity of about 30 percent.
Ocean acidification is already degrading seawater quality with adverse
impacts on marine ecosystems. For example, it threatens to erode away
coral reefs within our lifetime. Scientists have also found that some
plankton, which form the base of marine food webs, suffer from weaker
and thinner shells due to ocean acidification. Nearly every marine
animal with a shell is vulnerable to the impacts of ocean acidification.
"In just a few decades, ocean acidification will unravel a delicate
balance of underwater diversity that took millions of years to build,"
said Sakashita. "Absent quick regulatory action to address ocean
acidification, we will likely see catastrophic impacts on our ocean
ecosystems, including the near-complete loss of coral reefs."
In 2007, the Center filed a formal petition
asking EPA to impose stricter pH standards for ocean water quality and
to publish guidance to help states protect U.S. waters from ocean
acidification. The federal Clean Water Act requires the EPA to update
water-quality criteria to reflect the latest scientific knowledge.
However, the agency has not updated its pH criterion since 1976. Now it
has agreed to reevaluate this pH criterion in light of the new
information on ocean acidification.
If the EPA
strengthens the pH water-quality criterion for oceans, then the Clean
Water Act requires states to adopt a water-quality standard at least as
protective as the one established by the EPA. Moreover, states are
required to designate water bodies that do not meet water-quality
standards as "impaired" and take action to limit their pollution. Here,
stronger water-quality standards for pH could translate into measures
that regulate CO2 pollution, the primary cause of ocean acidification.
"Existing laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act are
our most important tools for immediately addressing the related threats
of ocean acidification and global warming," said Sakashita. "We need
not, and must not, wait till new laws are passed before taking action."
More information, including the Center's petition and EPA's response is available from the Center for Biological Diversity at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/ocean_acidification/index.html.
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