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For Immediate Release, November 13, 2008

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 308 or (510) 845-6703 (cell)

Environmental Protection Agency Warned to
Address Ocean Acidification or Face Lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity today notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its intent to file a lawsuit against the agency for its failure to respond to the threat of ocean acidification. Last year, the Center filed a formal petition asking EPA to impose stricter pH standards for ocean water quality and publish guidance to help states protect U.S. waters from ocean acidification. Today’s notice of intent to sue urges EPA to promptly respond to the Center’s petition.

The oceans cover about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and absorb about 22 million tons of carbon dioxide each day. The absorption of carbon dioxide is changing seawater chemistry, causing it to become more acidic. This process, known as ocean acidification, impairs the ability of marine animals to build the protective shells and skeletons they need to survive.

Already, the pH level of the ocean has decreased 0.1 units on average due to carbon dioxide pollution caused by human activity – especially emissions from such sources as automobiles and electrical power plants. If carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated, seawater pH may decrease an additional 0.4 units — more than a 100 percent change in acidity. A recent article in the journal Science noted that rapid changes in pH would have adverse effects on a number of marine organisms and highlighted the need to update EPA’s water-quality standard for pH, according to the authors of the July 4 Science article, “Carbon Emissions and Acidification.” “The seawater quality criteria of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency date back to 1976 … [t]hese standards must be re-evaluated based on the latest research on pH effects on marine organisms,” the authors wrote.

The federal Clean Water Act requires the EPA to update water-quality criteria to reflect the latest scientific knowledge. Since the agency developed the pH standard back in 1976, an extensive body of research has developed on the impacts of carbon dioxide on the oceans.

“Ocean acidification is global warming’s evil twin,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program. “The EPA has a duty under the Clean Water Act to protect our nation’s waters from pollution, and today, carbon dioxide is one of the biggest threats to our ocean waters.”

According to the Center’s notice of intent to sue, the EPA’s current water-quality criterion for pH is outdated and woefully inadequate in the face of ocean acidification. A decline of 0.2 pH — allowed under the current standard — would be devastating to the marine ecosystem. Twenty-five leading scientists researching ocean acidification concluded in a Sept. 25, 2007 commentary in the Geophysical Research Letters that “a decrease of this magnitude would pose a risk to the physiology and health of a variety of marine organisms.”

“Unless we take steps now to stop ocean acidification, it could cause the collapse of our marine ecosystems,” Sakashita said. “EPA needs to take prompt action to address this serious water-quality threat facing our oceans.”

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. Here, stronger water-quality standards for pH could translate into measures that regulate pollutants such as carbon dioxide, which is causing ocean acidification.

The notice of intent gives the EPA 60 days to correct the alleged violations before the Center may pursue legal action.

More information is available from the Center for Biological Diversity at  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places.

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