EPA Evaluates Ocean Acidification as a Threat to Water Quality Under Clean Water Act
The United States Environmental Protection Agency announced steps to protect U.S. waters from the threat of ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act. Today, EPA issued a notice of data availability to be published in the Federal Register that calls for information and data on ocean acidification that the agency will use to evaluate water-quality criteria under the Clean Water Act.
The notice responded to a formal petition and threatened litigation from the Center for Biological Diversity that sought to compel the agency to impose stricter pH criteria for ocean water quality and publish guidance to help states protect American waters from ocean acidification. EPA’s notice marks the first time that the Clean Water Act will be invoked by the agency to address ocean acidification.
"Ocean acidification is likely the greatest threat to the health of our oceans and is occurring at a frightening rate," said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program. "The federal government has finally acknowledged that ocean acidification is a threat; now it must take the next step and fully implement the Clean Water Act to protect our nation’s waters from ”˜the other CO2 problem."
EPA's water-quality criteria are relevant to preventing ocean acidification because they are the measure against which many states gauge the need to impose regulations on pollution. The notice states that EPA's "recommended criteria provide guidance to States and authorized Tribes in adopting water quality standards that ultimately provide a basis for controlling discharges or releases of pollutants." Here, that could eventually translate into controls on CO2.
The oceans absorb CO2 to the tune of 22 million tons each day, and this changes seawater chemistry, causing it to become more acidic. Ocean acidification is emerging as a primary threat to our oceans. To prevent the worst impacts of ocean acidification, CO2 emissions will need to be reduced from current levels, requiring immediate regulatory action.