Washington Law Review

Article

Dealing with Ocean Acidification: The Problem, the Clean Water Act, and State and Regional Approaches

December 21, 2015 | 90 Wash. L. Rev. 1583

Abstract: Ocean acidification is often referred to as climate change’s “evil twin.” As the global ocean continually absorbs much of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide produced through the burning of fossil fuels, its pH is dropping, causing a plethora of chemical, biological, and ecological impacts. These impacts immediately threaten local and regional fisheries and marine aquaculture; over the long term, they pose the risk of a global mass extinction event. As with climate change itself, the ultimate solution to ocean acidification is a worldwide reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. In the interim, however, environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity have worked to apply the federal Clean Water Act to ocean acidification, while states and coastal regions are increasingly pursuing more broadly focused responses to ocean acidification’s local and regional impacts. This Article provides a first assessment of these relatively nascent legal efforts to address ocean acidification. It concludes first that ocean acidification should prompt renewed Clean Water Act attention to stormwater runoff and nutrient pollution. However, this Article also demonstrates that improved implementation of the Clean Water Act will not be enough. The realities of ocean acidification require more comprehensive legal and policy innovations so that coastal states and regions can adapt to its impacts now and into the future.

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