Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 30, 2015

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 632-5308,

Legal Petition Urges EPA to Save Sea Life, Regulate CO2 as Toxic Substance

WASHINGTON— With the world’s oceans and sea life facing an unprecedented crisis from ocean acidification, the Center for Biological Diversity and former Environmental Protection Agency scientist Dr. Donn Viviani today formally petitioned the Obama administration to regulate carbon dioxide under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. The first-of-its-kind petition under the toxics act seeks widespread reduction of CO2 because it contributes to ocean acidification, driving the destruction of coral reefs and threatening nearly every form of sea life, from tiny plankton to fish, whales and sea otters.

“Time’s running out to avoid a mass extinction of wildlife in our oceans,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center. “It may not look like a toxic chemical, but when there’s too much CO2 in the ocean, it turns seawater corrosive and dissolves the protective shells that marine animals need to survive.”

The oceans absorb more than 22 million tons of CO2 each day, and on average the oceans are 30 percent more acidic now than at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Harm from ocean acidification is already observable: It has killed billions of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest; severely dissolved the shells of pteropods, a butterfly-like plankton, off the coast of California; and impaired the growth of corals in Florida and the Caribbean. And with CO2 levels rising, the dangers to our oceans will become more severe.

“We’re asking the EPA to prevent ocean acidification now by regulating CO2 emissions under the same law that helped reduce the chlorofluorocarbons that were causing the ozone hole. We’ve solved big environmental problems before and our petition shows the EPA a path to take bold action and leadership to save our oceans,” Dr. Viviani said.

The petition seeks to regulate CO2 as a chemical substance under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which has been used in the past to regulate harmful chemicals such as PCBs and asbestos. The law requires the EPA to regulate chemicals that present an unreasonable risk to the environment and conduct testing for harmful effects of chemicals that are produced in large quantities. The novel approach of using the Act to regulate CO2 could complement other efforts to reduce the CO2 emissions that are contributing to ocean acidification.

Under the Act the EPA has broad authority to require polluters to reduce emissions, keep records, sequester or take back chemicals produced. There are many industries that are not achieving the greatest CO2 reductions available through energy conservation and existing technology, and EPA action under this landmark law could implement many cost-effective CO2 reductions.

“Future generations will look back and wonder why we didn’t do everything we could to save the world’s oceans,” Sakashita said. “Failure to act is a decision to let our sea life die off and disappear. We can’t let that happen.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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