Study shows growing ocean damage as protection bills languish
As lawmakers push legislation to protect the nation’s coastal waters, scientists are placing
much of the blame for degrading ocean conditions on emissions from large energy
companies including ExxonMobil Corp., which was cleared Tuesday in a long-running
climate court case.
A study published Wednesday in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters
found that carbon emissions from the largest energy and cement companies are responsible
for more than half of a damaging side effect: increasing acidity in the planet's oceans, which
harms marine life and coastal economies.
The findings will likely join Democrats’ arguments as they push for reduced fossil fuel use
and demand accountability from the largest greenhouse gas emitters, though their
legislation remains stalled in the Senate.
“The more we drill, the more damage we do to our oceans and coastlines, and it’s time fossil
fuel corporations admitted it,” House Natural Resources Chairman Raul M. Grijalva, said.
“The future of our energy supply can’t rely on producing oil and gas indefinitely, and if
Exxon, Chevron and BP don’t have a better business model in mind, they’re not going to be
part of that future.”
The researchers said that more than half of the ocean acidification that occurred
between 1880 and 2015 was due to carbon emissions since 1965 from the 88 largest oil,
gas, coal and cement producers.
“We’ve known for several decades that burning fossil fuels is by far the largest driver of
ocean acidification, but we weren’t able to track how much any one fossil fuel company
contributed to the problem, and in what way,” Rachel Licker, lead author of the study and
senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a news release.
“Scientists can now quantify how much more acidic the ocean has become as a result of
each fossil fuel company’s products."
Lawmakers from both parties are increasingly concerned about ocean acidification and the
risks to underwater life and coastal economies.
Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., D-Va., said the new study confirms that “fossil fuels and carbon
pollution fueled a climate crisis which is doing lasting damage” to the environment and
economy right now.
“Ocean acidification is a serious problem which threatens coral reefs, key species, and also
jobs in the United States and around the world,” Beyer, who is co-chair of the New
Democrat Coalition Climate Change Task Force, said. “That damage is a legacy of
environmental injustice, with wealthier consumers and large corporations contributing to
problems which disproportionately harm poorer countries and communities."
The study comes a day after the House passed a bill (HR 729) to address climate-related
coastal issues for native American communities. The bill includes an amendment by Rep.
Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., that would allow them to qualify for Department of
Commerce grants to address acidification.
“The climate crisis continues to threaten our ocean, and we must equip our coastal
communities with the information necessary to respond to ocean acidification,” Bonamici
The House earlier this year passed a raft of bipartisan bills aimed at addressing ocean
acidification and increasing funding for research into the problem. In June, the House voted
395-22 to pass a bill (HR 1921) introduced by Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash, that would
help fight ocean acidification through increased research, monitoring and
prize competitions. The House also passed with bipartisan support other ocean acidification
bills including legislation (HR 1237) by Bonamici, which would reauthorize the ocean
acidification programs at NOAA and National Science Foundation and expand federal
research and monitoring of the effects of coastal acidification.
Another House-passed bill (HR1716) would task NOAA with assessing which communities
are most vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification and to use the results to inform
federal action. And Maine Democrat Rep. Chellie Pingree’s bill (HR 1716) would direct
the National Academies of Science to study the impacts from ocean acidification in
All of these bills have been sent to the Senate where they are among multiple pieces of
legislation sitting in what Democrats have described as Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell’s “legislative graveyard.”
Because of increased reliance on fossil fuels, especially in industrialized nations, the oceans
absorb some of the carbon dioxide emitted, which makes the waters more acidic. According
to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heat-trapping carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere has increased 43 percent since the industrial revolution due to the burning
of fossil fuels such as coal, gas and oil, along with land use change. While the oceans
absorbing that carbon dioxide help reduce its concentrations, it comes at a cost, including
making it harder for marine species to thrive, damaging coral reefs and hurting seafood and
other coastal economies.
The Union of Concerned Scientists says the oil and gas industry was aware of the climate
risks of their products since at least the mid-1960s, and companies launched “a
multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign to convince the public that climate science
was too uncertain to warrant action.”
That assertion has dogged ExxonMobil for several years at it battles court cases accusing it
of hiding what it knew of its contribution to climate change risks and deceiving investors
about the risks.
On Tuesday, a court exonerated Exxon in a case in which the oil giant was accused by the
state of New York of deliberately concealing climate change risks to investors. The company
is still battling other climate court cases. A spokesperson for the company did not
immediately provide comment on the study.
By: Elvina Nawaguna
Source: CQ/Roll Call