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Center for Biological Diversity:
Endangered Oceans 
E&E News, May 30, 2013

EPA agrees to study acidification
By Laura Petersen

U.S. EPA is planning to take a closer look at how best to tackle ocean acidification.

The agency will set up a working group within the next six months to evaluate the problem's causes and to monitor it.

The oceans, which absorb large amounts of greenhouse gases, have become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution, making it more difficult for organisms like coral and oysters to form protective shells and skeletons.

The working group will discuss current data and research on how rising carbon dioxide emissions are changing the chemistry of seawater. And it will develop water quality standards to help coastal states measure and track acidification.

The agency publicized its plans in a letter sent earlier this month to the Center for Biological Diversity in response to the nonprofit's petition for EPA to implement more stringent water quality standards to protect marine life and habitat from ocean acidification.

CBD originally petitioned EPA to adopt stricter standards in 2007. The agency collected public comments in 2009 but ultimately decided against changing the standard at that time because the scientific evidence was still emerging, said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at CBD.

This time, however, the agency "agrees with the Center for Biological Diversity and other experts in the field that recent scientific research indicates that other ocean chemistry indicators and biological parameters, beyond pH, may be relevant for ocean acidification," EPA wrote in its letter. The Clean Water Act currently requires that pH levels not shift by more than 60 percent.

Since 2010, EPA has directed states to incorporate ocean acidification into their water quality assessments completed every other year. The agency has planned to issue guidance on the assessments, but officials previously said they would not use the Clean Water Act to regulate carbon emissions, the primary contributor to ocean acidification (E&ENews PM, June 23, 2010).

"I would disagree there is no authority for EPA to take action on greenhouse gases," Sakashita said. The agency has developed control mechanisms using both the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act for other airborne pollutants that impair water, such as mercury and acid rain, she added.

Sakashita said the agency does not yet appear poised to develop regulations for ocean acidification, but after the working group draws up its guidelines for states, "it would be very hard to not then implement them as actual criteria."

But that's further down the road, she said. For now, the group applauded EPA for promising to establish a working group that will take its petition into consideration.

"It's really exciting to see EPA to take steps to address ocean acidification, by creating new water quality criteria that will give states the tools they need to be monitoring their waters to protect fisheries and marine ecosystems," she said.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton