Lawsuits rather than Leadership?

Governor Bush pledged, if elected President, to “establish mandatory reduction targets for emissions of four main pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide.”  When it came to regulated and controlling pollutants that threaten all American, President Bush has followed a far different path than Governor Bush designed.  This abandonment of pledged leadership has led to a series of lawsuits from state governments seeking CO2 emissions controls under the Clean Air Act.  Now, there is a new tack underway … suing for controls under the Clean Water Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity has initiated a lawsuit for CO2 controls under the provisions of the Clean Water Act. 

Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas, and not only contributes to global warming but also causes ocean acidification. The ocean absorbs CO2, which reacts with seawater to make it more acidic—thus altering the chemical composition of the ocean. Approximately half of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning and cement production over the past 200 years has been absorbed by the oceans.

Carbon dioxide pollution has already lowered average ocean pH by 0.11 units, with a pH change of 0.5 units projected by the end of the century under current emission trajectories. These changes are likely to have devastating impacts on the entire ocean ecosystem.

The primary known impact of acidification is impairment of calcification, the process whereby animals such as corals, crabs, abalone, oysters, and sea urchins make shells and skeletons. Many species of phytoplankton and zooplankton, which form the basis of the marine food web, are also particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification. Laboratory studies have shown that at carbon dioxide concentrations likely to occur in the ocean in the next few decades, the shells of many marine species dissolve, killing the organisms. Absent significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, ocean acidification will accelerate, likely ultimately leading to the collapse of oceanic food webs and catastrophic impacts on the global environment.

“Ocean acidification is as grave a threat to the health of our planet as global warming,” said Miyoko Sakashita, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity who specializes in ocean issues. “Fortunately, the Clean Water Act provides the tools to regulate carbon dioxide pollution, which will help address not only ocean acidification but also global warming.”

While the Environmental Protection Agency under the Bush administration has taken the position that carbon dioxide cannot be regulated as a “pollutant” under the Clear Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency already lists pH as a “pollutant” in its Clean Water Act regulations. Because CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, lowering the pH of seawater, carbon dioxide emissions therefore can and must be regulated under the Act.


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