Greens Ask EPA to Regulate Carbon Dioxide

     (CN) – The Environmental Protection Agency should regulate carbon dioxide, as it does other harmful substances, because the world’s oceans and sea life face “an unprecedented crisis” from acidification, environmentalists say.
     The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Obama administration to regulate CO2 emissions under the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, as it has regulated other toxic and harmful substances such as PCBs and asbestos.
     “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,” said former EPA scientist Dr. Donn Viviani, who joined the petition.
     “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,” he said.
     Ocean acidification is caused in large part by the oceans’ capacity to absorb more than 22 million tons of CO2 per day. This has increased oceanic acidity by 30 percent since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the Center said.
     When carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater, chemical reactions reduce the water’s pH and the saturation states of calcium carbonate minerals, which are building blocks for the skeletons and shells of many marine organisms.
     When oceans become under-saturated with these minerals, it is likely to affect the ability of some organisms to produce and maintain their shells.
     Scientists have documented the harmful effects of acidification on sea life, and the impacts will only get worse, the Center said.
     Billions of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest have died, 53 percent of plankton along the West Coast have been found to have severely dissolved shells from corrosive waters, and calcification rates at some coral reefs have declined by 15 percent, the Center said.
     “Time’s running out to avoid a mass extinction of wildlife in our oceans,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of Center’s oceans department. “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.”
     Collaborative research between the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, the University of Alaska, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that parts of the Arctic Ocean are acidifying so quickly that some marine species may see their ability to build and maintain shells threatened as early as 2030.
     The surface waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas “may no longer be saturated with enough calcium carbonate for a number of animals from tiny sea snails to Alaska King crabs to construct and maintain their shells at certain times of the year,” said lead author Jeremy Mathis, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environment Laboratory.
     “This change due to ocean acidification would not only affect shell-building animals but could ripple through the marine ecosystem,” he said.
     The region is home to some of the nation’s most valuable commercial and subsistence fisheries: an estimated 60 percent of U.S. commercial fisheries landings by weight are harvested in Alaska, according to the NOAA.
     These 5.8 billion pounds brought in $1.9 billion in whole sale values – one-third of all landings by value – in the United States in 2013.
     “The Pacific-Arctic region, because of its vulnerability to ocean acidification, gives us an early glimpse of how the global ocean will respond to increased human-caused carbon dioxide emissions, which are being absorbed by our ocean,” Mathis said.
     Another study, published last week in the journal Science, found that failure to make drastic cuts in CO2 emissions would have enormous and irreversible impacts on ocean ecosystems.
     The authors of that study predict that by 2100, the oceans’ pH level will have fallen by 0.4 units, which amounts to an increase of 150 percent in ocean acidity, compared to the mid-19th century level.
     It will take immediate and substantial reduction of CO2 emissions to prevent massive impacts on ocean ecosystems, the study says.
     The Center for Biological Diversity’s petition asks the EPA to make a determination that CO2 presents “an unreasonable risk of injury to health or environment,” to begin the rulemaking process to control carbon dioxide, and/or require manufacturers and processors responsible for generation of CO2 to undertake testing to those ends.
     Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA has broad authority to require polluters to reduce emissions, keep records, and sequester or take back chemicals produced.
     Many industries are not achieving the greatest CO2 reductions available through energy conservation and existing technology, and the EPA could implement many cost-effective reductions under the Act, the Center said.
     “Future generations will look back and wonder why we didn’t do everything we could to save the world’s oceans,” said Sakashita. “Failure to act is a decision to let our sea life die off and disappear. We can’t let that happen.”
     Coal, petroleum and other industries are sure to lobby furiously against the petition. They have claimed in similar cases that carbon dioxide is good for the planet, as it is a naturally occurring chemical that plants need to grow, and convert into oxygen.
     The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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