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Lawsuit Challenges EPA On Identifying Oregon Waters Impaired By Ocean Acidification
Posted on Friday, November 30, 2018 (PST)

An environmental law organization is challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in court over what it says is the EPA’s failure to identify Oregon waters that are impaired by ocean acidification. That identification as impaired would allow Oregon to enforce pollution controls and other protective measures.


The Center for Biological Diversity filed the suit Nov. 27 in U.S. District Court of Oregon in Eugene, saying that according to the federal Clean Water Act the EPA must finalize its rulemaking on a list of impaired waters Oregon submitted in 2014, including acidified marine waters that Oregon had not included in its impaired waters list.


According to the Center’s opening complaint in court, ocean acidification occurs when the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere and the carbon dioxide reacts with seawater, lowering the ocean’s pH and making it more acidic. “In addition, land-based pollution in the form of nutrient runoff and other local sources increases acidity,” the complaint says.


The complaint is at


Acidification removes calcium carbonate from seawater, making it difficult for marine organisms to build the shells they need for protection. “Consequently, shellfish in Oregon have experienced a dramatic collapse in production. Beginning in 2005, billions of oyster larvae have perished in the Pacific Northwest hatcheries that rely on the region’s seawater, with some hatcheries losing up to 80 percent of their larvae,” the complaint says, linking the oyster problems with acidification.


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, the Center says.


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


Under the CWA, states are required every two years to identify impaired bodies of water. When the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality submitted its 2012 CWA Sec. 303(d) list Nov. 5, 2014, it didn’t include ocean acidification and its impact on marine waters.


EPA partially approved and partially disapproved Oregon’s impaired water body list. It disapproved the list because Oregon had not included some 332 impaired bodies of water. EPA proposed to add these water bodies to Oregon’s list, the complaint says.


“In its partial disapproval, EPA solicited data and information on ocean acidification impacts to marine waters in Oregon,” the complaint says. “EPA described the numerous lab and field studies that show impacts to shellfish and other marine life under corrosive conditions and acknowledged that data conclusively demonstrated corrosive conditions off the Oregon coast.”


Yet it didn’t complete the list, identify Oregon marine waters impaired by acidification or finalize the rulemaking, something it’s required to do within 30 days of receiving Oregon’s 303(d) list, the complaint says.


The state has the authority to control pollutants after a water body is listed as impaired:


“Specifically, the state or EPA must establish total maximum daily loads of pollutants that a water body can receive and still attain water quality standards,” the complaint says. “States then implement the maximum loads by incorporating them into the state’s water quality management plan and controlling pollution from point and nonpoint sources.”


Oceans have absorbed about 30 percent of the CO2 released into the atmosphere by human activities.  Much of that comes from fossil fuel use and deforestation, according to the complaint. The CO2 concentration is over 400 parts per million and continues to rise over two parts per million per year. The ocean will continue to absorb CO2 until it reaches equilibrium with the atmosphere.


“Globally, human sources of carbon dioxide have changed the pH of oceans an average of 0.11 units since the Industrial Revolution – a thirty percent increase in acidity,” the complaint says. “By the end of the century, the pH of the world’s oceans is predicted to drop by another 0.3 to 0.5 units, amounting to a 100 to 150 percent increase in acidity.”


Oregon coastal waters are “especially vulnerable” to acidification due to nutrient runoff and algal blooms, along with high CO2 runoff. The complaint says that human sources are a major contributor to the nutrient loads along the Oregon coast.


“Ocean acidification is already at levels that were not predicted until the end of the century,” the complaint says. “The entire West Coast is currently experiencing an upwelling of ‘corrosive acidified’ waters onto the continental shelf, exposing shellfish and plankton in surface waters to corrosive conditions.


Also see:


-- CBB, December 2, 2016, “Research Links Ocean Acidification To Dissolving Shells Of Pteropods, Key Part Of Marine Food Chain,”


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