Wednesday, April 15, 2009

USEPA Seeking Scientific Information on CO2-caused Ocean Acidification

Think global warming affects only the air temperature? Think again. The oceans matter also when it comes to climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) could lead to big changes in the ocean, and most of it would not be good. According to the Center For Biological Diversity (CBD) in a petition filed last year, new science shows that increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are acidifying ocean waters. The result is impairment in the ability of coral and other marine invertebrates to build and maintain exoskeletons (the hard parts on the outside that keep them together).

To evaluate the petition, EPA is seeking scientific and policy information on ocean acidification caused by CO2. They need this information to help them decide whether to revise their current pH water criterion, a move which could lay the groundwork for regulating greenhouse gases through the Clean Water Act. EPA published a notice of data availability in an April 15 Federal Register notice, and asked for commenters to provide existing information about ocean acidification as well as new scientific data and policy suggestions for addressing acidification. The goal is to use the information to decide whether to grant the CBD petition, which asked the agency to revise its national marine criterion for pH to protect marine life.

Because of the interconnectedness of the issue, EPA is soliciting information on technological advances in rapid, continuous, or remote monitoring of pH; long term data that demonstrate acidification; and methods to evaluate pH variability. They are also seeking estimates for survival rates for coral and non-coral organisms, as well as any methods for weighing the impact of acidification in comparison to other stressors, such as storm damage and overfishing. Finally, the EPA would like individual states to offer their experience on implementing the current pH standard and for experts to suggest scientifically defensible approaches to set and monitor pH criteria.

The ramifications of this decision are potentially expansive. EPA's decision on the pH criteria could set an ecological goal for future CO2 limits. The resultant criteria are non-binding, but they inform state water standards, and that could in turn require the setting of emission limits at the state level to achieve the standards. This action is a part of a myriad of actions the EPA is contemplating in an effort to address climate change through regulations. Other actions include the reconsideration of the previous administration's denial of California's request to regulate CO2 from vehicles, reevaluation of a Bush EPA memo barring regulation of CO2 in power plant permits, and the preparation of a climate change endangerment finding that could set the stage for regulations across many programs and agencies. As I have mentioned in the past, the Obama administration is taking climate change issues very seriously and has filled many of his key environmental and energy positions with personnel experienced and active in those areas.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Architect of the REACH Regulation" Calls for UN Panel on Chemicals

Margot Wallström is European Commission vice-president and the force behind the development and passage of the European Union's Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) regulation.

She is also now a conference room.

Okay, technically she isn't herself a conference room. But one of the two conference rooms in the new European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) conference center inaugurated April 3rd is named after her (the second is named after Guido Sacconi, the European Parliament's rapporteur for REACH). The new conference center, located at ECHA headquarters in Helsinki, Finland, is one of the most modern facilities available, including computer panels and microphones for each of the 200 seats.

In her invited remarks at the inauguration Ms. Wallström called for a new high level UN panel that would "tackle the risks from chemicals in the same way that the Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is doing for climate change." The new UN panel would consist of a team of independent researchers. While she didn't provide further details at the ECHA event, you can read more about it here (assuming you can read Swedish).

Mr. Sacconi, while not present at the ECHA unveiling, recently made the news as he, in conjunction with Europe's largest trade union, published a list of 306 chemicals that they consider to be of very high concern.

Ms. Wallström isn't the only one calling for more chemical control. Dr Thomas Jakl, Chairman of ECHA’s Management Board, in response to a question from the students about the role of consumers, implored them to "be active, seek out information on chemicals...ask manufacturers what is in the products that you buy. Man made chemicals are in the blood of every single one of us – they should be a matter of concern for us all.”