Ocean acidification: legal and policy responses to address climate change’s evil twin

Much attention has been devoted to the problem of global climate change, but the effects of carbon dioxide on the world’s oceans has been largely underappreciated. Oceanic absorption of carbon dioxide is working fundamental changes on ocean chemistry, increasing the acidity of the oceans, and threatening the stability of the oceans’ ecosystems. The United States has responded to these emergent threats with a policy agenda heavily oriented toward data production, but light on action that might reverse the course of ocean acidification. This Article contends that this policy approach is ill-suited to the known risks of intensifying ocean acidification. The author recommends a shift toward a more action-oriented policy agenda aimed at preventing ocean acidification from reaching perilous levels. In particular, this article recommends using the statutory tools already available under the Clean Water Act to preserve coastal carbon sinks, to establish more protective marine water quality standards for pH, and to implement regional TMDLs for carbon dioxide. The cost of delay is simply too high to forgo direct action to combat ocean acidification.

Hull E. V., 2016. Ocean acidification: legal and policy responses to address climate change’s evil twin. Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy 6(2): 348-386. Republished with permission from the NYU Environmental Law Journal 507 (2014). Article.


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