SAN FRANCISCO – The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to set new water-quality standards to combat ocean acidification or respond to a three-year-old Center petition demanding the agency address this growing threat to marine life. Despite scientific consensus that federal water-quality standards are outdated and inadequate to protect marine life from the corrosive effects of ocean acidification, the EPA has ignored its legal duties to update the standards.
“The EPA is ignoring the threat of ocean acidification, and that’s very dangerous. We need to act now to protect oysters, corals and other marine animals that are already being hurt by the deadly effects of ocean acidification,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center attorney.
The Center’s legal petition, filed in April 2013, requested that the EPA develop new water-quality standards to monitor and detect ocean acidification as required by the Clean Water Act. Such standards are the foundation of the Act and provide a basis for water-quality monitoring, identifying impaired waters and controlling water pollution. In 2010 the agency acknowledged that it has the duty and authority to address ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act.
Oceans become more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide emissions, interfering with the ability of shellfish and corals to turn calcium carbonate into protective shells, among other problems. According to a recent report published by leading scientists on the West Coast Panel on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia, current federal water-quality standards, measured by pH, are 40 years old and are neither based on current science nor strong enough to protect marine life.
“Scientists are telling us we need new water-quality standards, but the federal agency charged with protecting our water is turning a blind eye to the problem,” said Jeffers. “If we want to save our fisheries and coastal ecosystems, we need standards that reflect the best scientific knowledge. To be wise steward of the oceans we need to be able to identify the water bodies that need our help the most.”
The oceans absorb 22 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution every day, which is changing ocean chemistry. Ocean acidification has already caused massive oyster die-offs in the Pacific Northwest, and off the coast of California, ocean acidification has severely eroded the shells of small plankton called pteropods, an important base of the marine food web. Corals worldwide are endangered by ocean acidification and some are already growing sluggishly, while other species, such as clownfish, suffer brain damage and behavioral problems as a result of corrosive waters.