November 17, 2010

EPA: Some Coastal Waters Should Be Listed As Impaired

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said states with coastal waters that are becoming more acidic because of carbon dioxide should list them as impaired under the Clean Water Act.

The agency's memo recognizes carbon dioxide as not only an air pollutant but a water pollutant, and notes the serious impacts that ocean acidification can have on aquatic life.

Ocean acidification refers to the decrease in the alkalinity of oceans, which is caused by the absorption of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Scientists have raised concern about dissolving coral reefs and potential effects on fish and other sea life.

"Ocean acidification is one of the biggest threats to our marine environment," said Miyoko Sakashita, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. This EPA action "really gave the green light to using the Clean Water Act to address ocean acidification," she said.

The agency's memo comes from a legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued the EPA for not requiring Washington state to list its coastal waters as impaired by rising acidity.

According to the memo, in 2012, states should start listing bodies of water that suffer from ocean acidification as impaired.  The memo also says there is currently not enough information in many states to support listings for that reason.

About 40,000 bodies of water are listed nationwide as impaired.

Sandy Howard, a spokeswoman with the Washington Department of Ecology, told The Associated Press that the state is working with federal agencies to find more accurate and reliable methods of measuring pH, which shows how alkaline or acidic something is.

However, she said the listing program is not the right tool in order to fix the problem of greenhouse gas emissions.

She told AP that the program focuses on local water quality fixes, while the issue of greenhouse gas emissions is a global one.


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