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Ocean acidification: another path to EPA rules on carbon emissions?

In a legal settlement Thursday, the EPA agreed to help states test coastal waters for acidity, and to weigh whether to tighten rules on carbon emissions to address ocean acidification.

By Peter N. SpottsStaff writer / March 12, 2010

Oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Now the US EPA will help states study and address ocean acidification.

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Move over global warming. Ocean acidification is getting its day in court.

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Nearly three years after the US Supreme Court found that carbon dioxide was a pollutant that fell under the purview of the Clean Air Act, the US Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to explore approaches for tightening its regulations dealing with ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act.

Ocean acidification results from the ocean's uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Many scientists have become increasingly concerned about the effect industrial emissions of CO2 are having on the chemistry of the world's oceans and about the fallout for many species of marine animals.

The oceans take up as much as half the CO2 emissions humans pump into the atmosphere each year.

The agreement, reached Thursday in the US District Court in Seattle, stems from a 2009 lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group based in San Francisco.

The center argued that the acidity in Washington State's coastal waters had increased sufficiently to violate EPA standards, but that the state and the EPA failed to list the waters as "impaired." That designation triggers a process for reducing pollution levels to prevent the condition from getting worse.

While the settlement falls short of the Center for Biological Diversity's goal, the agreement "creates a public process for the EPA to prepare guidance for all the states with coastlines on how to address ocean acidification," says Miyoko Sakashita, the center's point person on ocean issues.

That includes helping states assess and monitor the chemistry of their coastal waters, working with them to determine acceptable daily maximum levels of acidification, and providing support as they try to develop regulations controlling the pollutant involved: carbon dioxide.

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