In the fall of 2010, the EPA issued a memo stating for the record that the Clean Water Act covers ocean acidification, as well as more traditional types of pollution. While widely hailed as an historic call to action, the memo was full of qualifiers and caveats. First and foremost, few states would be expected to have the data necessary to request an “impaired” listing. Perhaps more daunting, such a listing would trigger legal requirements for corrective action – essentially an impossible standard to meet since nothing a state could do on its own would even touch the global phenomenon of ocean acidification.
So was this just political grandstanding destined to go nowhere? Maybe not.
In their latest report to EPA, the state of Washington has listed Puget Sound as “waters of concern” based on the impact of ocean acidification on the local shellfish industry. That’s a strategy that takes advantage of a work-around explicitly mentioned in the memo – demonstrating biological or ecological impacts attributable to ocean acidification, rather than documenting the subtle and slow-moving chemical phenomenon itself. It will be interesting to see whether other states follow suit; it could prove more difficult in areas with less pristine waters facing multiple impacts.
But back to the listing, itself. As explained in a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, it’s kind of a half-way move:
In its new assessment, Washington again declined to identify coastal waters as “impaired” by acidification — a classification that would have required steps to curb carbon pollution causing acidification. Instead, only Puget Sound was put on the “waters of concern” list, a less urgent category.
This listing may not match the urgency that shellfish growers in the area feel, but it does at least give the problem some official standing.