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UW Symposium: Ocean Acidification Pushing Boundaries Of Environmental Law

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Photo of rosette used to collact water samples in Puget Sound.

The University of Washington held its first annual symposium on environmental law last week. The idea is to choose a topic and examine how it fits into current and future regulations. This year’s focus—ocean acidification. 

It is sometimes called the evil twin of global warming. Ocean acidification is caused when carbon pollution from fossil fuels dissolves into our waterways. Scientists say it may cause serious harm to life on the planet; some say it is already damaging the local shellfish industry.

It is also pushing the envelope of current environmental law.

“It’s a hot topic,” said Todd Wildermuth, who directs the Environmental Law Center at the University of Washington and organized the symposium. “It’s really interesting scientifically. We have some of the best scientists and leading science on ocean acidification in the world here.”

He says they’re bringing together scientists, as well as policy experts and government officials, to look at ocean acidification from every angle; because along with the renewed interest in and funding for more research, the science is changing rapidly.

“And we wanted to do our part in the law school to make sure that we were attending to the legal aspects of what the scientists were telling us,” Wildermuth said.

They’re examining current lawsuits filed under the Clean Water Act and talking with the local EPA administrator about how that and other laws might need to change to accommodate issues raised by the shifting pH level of the oceans.

The Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy has also put out a call for papers on the topic.

Next year’s focus is yet to be decided, but natural disasters such as mudslides or earthquakes are likely topics for this annual look at hot topics in evolving environmental regulations. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to