Noaki Schwartz / Associated Press – 2008-01-16 22:50:34
Bush Exempts Navy From Environmental Law
Noaki Schwartz / Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (January 16, 2008) — Conservationists on Wednesday blasted President Bush’s decision to exempt the Navy from an environmental law so it can continue using high-power sonar in its training off Southern California — a practice they say harms whales and other marine mammals.
The president’s action by itself won’t allow the anti-submarine warfare training to go forward because an injunction is in place, but the Navy believes it will significantly strengthen its argument in court. A three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco had been expected to make a determination on the future of the Navy exercises on Friday.
However, late Wednesday, the appeals court sent the issue back to the US District Court in Los Angeles to consider first.
The White House announced Bush signed the exemption Tuesday while traveling in the Middle East. In his memorandum, Bush said the Navy training exercises “are in the paramount interest of the United States” and its national security.
Peter Douglas, the executive director of the California Coastal Commission, which joined in the lawsuit to provide the mammals greater protections from sonar, called the exemption unprecedented in California.
“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “It’s typical for this Republican administration to ignore environmental protections under the banner of fear.”
Attorneys for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been fighting the Navy’s sonar training, said the group would file papers with the District Court to challenge Bush’s exemption.
“The president’s action is an attack on the rule of law,” said Joel Reynolds, director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Santa Monica. “By exempting the Navy from basic safeguards under both federal and state law, the president is flouting the will of Congress, the decision of the California Coastal Commission and a ruling by the federal court.”
A federal judge in Los Angeles issued a preliminary injunction this month requiring the Navy to create a 12-nautical-mile, no-sonar zone along the Southern California coast and to post trained lookouts to watch for marine mammals before and during exercises. Sonar would have to be shut down when mammals were spotted within 2,200 yards, under the order.
The court found that using mid-frequency active sonar violated the Coastal Zone Management Act and Bush exempted the Navy from a section of that act. Complying with the environmental law would “undermine the Navy’s ability to conduct realistic training exercises that are necessary to ensure the combat effectiveness of carrier and expeditionary strike groups,” Bush said.
Scientists say loud sonar can damage marine mammal brains and ears. Sonar may also mask the echoes some whales and dolphins listen for when they use their own natural sonar to locate food.
But much is still unknown about how sonar affects whales and other marine mammals. For example, the sound can hurt some species while not affecting others, and experts don’t fully understand why.
In an argument that has been going on for years, the Navy has continually said that the exercises are vital for training and that it works to minimizes the risk to marine life.
A statement from the Defense Department said that the new exemption covers the use of mid-frequency active sonar in a series of exercises scheduled to take place off California through January 2009 and that the Navy already applies 29 measures to mitigate the effects.
In a separate development, the Pentagon statement said, Navy Secretary Donald Winter signed a memo Tuesday agreeing to greater public participation and better reporting on the issue while officials complete an environmental impact study for Southern California.
Use of sonar “is part of critical, integrated training that must be done in the Navy’s operating area off the coast of San Diego to take advantage” of features there related to water depth, as well as extensive ranges, airfields and other infrastructure needed for training, the Pentagon statement said.
About half the Navy’s fleet will receive “its most critical, graduate level training” there before it deploys its forces around the world, it said.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said that exercises with sonar train sailors to detect quiet submarines that might threaten its ships.
“We cannot in good conscience send American men and women into potential trouble spots without adequate training to defend themselves,” said Roughead.
“The Southern California operating area provides unique training opportunities that are vital to preparing our forces, and the planned exercises cannot be postponed without impacting national security,” he said in the Pentagon statement.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.
On the Net:
• US Navy: www.whalesandsonar.navy.mil
• Southern California Range Complex Environmental Impact Statement: www.socalrangecomplexeis.com/
© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Commerce
White House News
SUBJECT: Presidential Exemption from the Coastal Zone Management Act
(January 16, 2008) — By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 1456(c)(1)(B) of title 16, United States Code, and to ensure effective and timely training of the United States naval forces in anti-submarine warfare using mid-frequency active sonar:
I hereby exempt from compliance with the requirements of section 1456(c)(1)(A) of title 16 (section 307(c)(1)(A) of the Coastal Zone Management Act) those elements of the Department of the Navy’s anti-submarine warfare training during Southern California Operating Area Composite Training Unit Exercises (COMPTUEX) and Joint Task Force Exercises (JTFEX) involving the use of mid-frequency active sonar.
These exercises are more fully described in the Environmental Assessment/Overseas Environmental Assessment prepared for the Commander, United States Pacific Fleet, dated February 2007.
On January 3, 2008, as modified on January 10, 2008, the United States District Court for the Central District of California determined that the Navy’s use of mid-frequency active sonar was not in compliance with section 1456(c)(1)(A), and issued an order that is appealable under section 1291 or 1292 of title 28, United States Code.
On January 11, 2008, the Secretary of Commerce made a written request that the Navy be exempted from compliance with section 1456(c)(1)(A) in its use of mid-frequency active sonar during COMPTUEX and JTFEX. As part of that request, the Secretary of Commerce certified that mediation under section 1456(h) is not likely to result in the Navy’s compliance with section 1456(c)(1)(A).
I hereby determine that the COMPTUEX and JTFEX, including the use of mid-frequency active sonar in these exercises, are in the paramount interest of the United States. Compliance with section 1456(c)(1)(A) would undermine the Navy’s ability to conduct realistic training exercises that are necessary to ensure the combat effectiveness of carrier and expeditionary strike groups.
This exemption will enable the Navy to train effectively and to certify carrier and expeditionary strike groups for deployment in support of world-wide operational and combat activities, which are essential to national security.
GEORGE W. BUSH