Group petitions states to add oceans to list of 'impaired' waterways

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A conservation organization has requested that Alaska and six other states add two bodies of water to their list of impaired waterways: the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

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The Center for Biological Diversity, based in San Francisco, requested that Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii list the Pacific Ocean as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act. The group wants New York, New Jersey and Florida to list the Atlantic.

The reason: ocean acidification, the changing of sea water chemistry because of absorption of carbon dioxide produced by humans.

A center attorney, Miyoko Sakashita, said listing the oceans as impaired under the Clean Water Act would allow states to set limits on the discharge of pollutants.

Lynda Giguere, spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said neither Commissioner Larry Hartig nor Division of Water Director Lynn Kent had seen the request Wednesday.

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Alaska periodically reviews such requests, she said, and this one will be considered in a process allowing public comment.

The ocean's absorption of carbon dioxide is quietly and lethally altering its fundamental chemistry, Sakashita said.

"We must act now to prevent global warming's evil twin, ocean acidification, from destroying our ocean ecosystems," she said.

A similar petition was submitted in California in February.

A comprehensive national policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions would be preferable, Sakashita said.

"Since we don't have that right now, using the Clean Water Act is the strongest law we have that addresses water quality," she said.

The law applied to oceans traditionally has been used to stop land-based pollution. However, the law covers both point and "nonpoint" sources of pollution such as farm runoff, she said, and has been used against mercury emitted from smokestacks.

It's not the first time the group has taken on greenhouse gas emissions by using laws on the books. The center filed the initial petition seeking protection for America's polar bears under the Endangered Species Act because of the effect of global warming on the animals' primary habitat, Arctic sea ice.



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