Lawsuit launched over federal failure to address ocean acidification in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the Trump administration for refusing to recognize that ocean acidification caused by fossil fuel pollution is impairing waterways in Oregon.

Today’s filing notes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to fulfill its requirement under the Clean Water Act to identify waters impaired by ocean acidification so that they can then be subject to pollution controls and other mitigation measures.

Shellfish and other marine life are being harmed as the Pacific Ocean absorbs carbon dioxide emissions and becomes more acidic, a condition that climate scientists expect to worsen steadily.

“Oyster farmers understand the dire threat posed by ocean acidification, which is hurting their livelihoods. It’s time for the Trump administration to recognize how fossil fuel dependence is hurting Oregon’s waterways,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center attorney. “We can help protect water quality and coastal communities, but only if EPA officials address the acidification threat before it gets worse.”

Oregon’s oyster farms first began experiencing mass mortalities from ocean acidification in 2005. Warm ocean conditions and coastal upwelling make the West Coast particularly vulnerable. Acidification is affecting the Pacific Northwest’s coastal waters at rates and magnitudes greater than scientists had previously estimated and has already reached levels that were not predicted until the end of the century.

Ocean acidification severely erodes 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 stunted. Other species, such as clownfish, suffer brain damage and behavioral problems as a result of corrosive waters.

While acknowledging that data indicate corrosive conditions off the Oregon coast and that aquatic life is being harmed, the Trump administration has failed to identify impaired waters, as required by federal law.

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. The oceans absorb 22 million tons of CO2 pollution every day, which is changing the water’s chemistry.

“Our oceans can’t keep absorbing all the carbon pollution we’re emitting. We’re changing the chemistry of our oceans in dangerous ways,” Jeffers said. “It’s time for the federal government to recognize the problem and take real action on ocean acidication.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, 28 August 2018. Press release.

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