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February 22, 2010
2:26 PM

CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity

Matt Vespa, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5309

EPA Petitioned to Reduce Black Carbon 'Soot' Under Clean Water Act

Potent Global Warming Pollutant Accelerates the Melting of Sea Ice and Glaciers

SAN FRANCISCO - February 22 - Today the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to take action to reduce black-carbon pollution under the federal Clean Water Act. The petition is the first to explicitly seek protection of water in its solid form; it asks EPA to set water-quality criteria for concentrations of black carbon on sea ice and glaciers under the Clean Water Act - the first step toward reducing black-carbon emissions from diesel engines and other sources due to their role in accelerating the loss of sea ice and glaciers.

"Black carbon, or soot, is not only dangerous to breathe but also a potent global warming pollutant that is greatly accelerating the melt of Arctic sea ice and glaciers around the world," said Matt Vespa, a senior attorney with the Center. "The Clean Water Act provides important tools to reduce this dangerous pollutant, which will slow global warming and protect public health."

Generated from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass, black carbon is a solid particle that warms the atmosphere in two ways. In the atmosphere, its dark color absorbs heat and raises the temperature of the air. When it lands on ice and snow, it darkens these surfaces, thereby absorbing heat and increasing melting. Over the course of the Arctic spring, black-carbon-contaminated snow and ice can melt weeks earlier than clean snow and ice. Due to its warming effects in the air and on ice and snow, black carbon is considered one of the largest contributors to global warming after carbon dioxide pollution. In addition to its strong warming effect, black carbon also has profound impacts on public health, contributing to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year.

If current trends continue, many of the glaciers in the continental United States, including all of the glaciers in Glacier National Park, will disappear within the next 25 to 30 years. Scientists believe the Arctic could be ice free in the summer by 2030. Summer sea ice has already decreased by nearly 40 percent, or one million square miles, from what was present in the 1970s.

Because black carbon stays in the atmosphere for less than a month, however, reductions in black-carbon emissions yield immediate environmental and public health benefits. "Reducing black-carbon pollution today buys critically needed time to achieve the deep reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that are ultimately necessary to preserve sea ice and glaciers," said Vespa. "But the window of opportunity to act, like the sea ice, is shrinking rapidly."

If EPA were to adopt water-quality criteria for black carbon, each state with glaciers (Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) or sea ice (Alaska) would either need to adopt the EPA standard or set their own. Those standards then become the basis for developing controls on the release of black carbon in order to protect sea ice and glaciers from this dangerous pollutant. Emissions from diesel engines, particularly from ships and older heavy-duty vehicles and construction equipment, is a primary domestic source of black carbon.

A copy of the petition and other information on black carbon can be found at


At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.


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