Josiah Ryan / CNSNews.com – 2008-01-26 00:18:32
SAN FRANCISCO (January 22, 2008) — When President Bush last week exempted the U.S. Navy from the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) so Navy sonar technicians could be trained off the California coast to detect quiet submarines, two Democratic members of Congress from California took exception.
Bush acted after a federal judge issued an injunction on Jan. 3 that would have prevented the Navy from conducting training exercises that the Navy insists are necessary to give sonar technicians a combat-like training experience before they are actually deployed to a potential war zone.
After Bush issued the exemption, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper temporarily lifted parts of her injunction while the issue is being fought out in court.
The Navy, she said, would not have to shut down its sub-detecting sonar when whales or other marine mammals come within 2,200 yards of their ships or reduce sonar power under certain sea conditions when sonar travels farther. However, she maintained a ban on allowing the Navy to do sonar training within 12 miles offshore.
Cooper’s injunction was issued as part of a court case, which was brought against the Navy by the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC) and other environmental groups.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) issued a statement condemning President Bush for giving the Navy a waiver to the act, and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) told Cybercast News Service that he believed the president was exceeding his authority in doing so.
“Once again the Bush Administration has taken a slap at our environmental heritage, overriding a court that was very mindful to protect marine wildlife, including endangered whales, while assuring that the Navy’s activities can continue,” said Boxer.
“The science tells us that sonar can injure and kill whales and other marine mammals. Unfortunately, this Bush administration action will send this case right back into court, where more taxpayer dollars will be wasted defending a misguided decision,” she said.
The CZMA was designed to allow states to maintain partial control of federal activity along their coasts, but it also gives the president the power to exempt certain federal activities from the act.
The exemption issued by President Bush allows the Navy to continue use of mid-frequency sound navigation and ranging (sonar) in anti-submarine warfare training exercises along the coast of Southern California.
Along with the exemption, the Justice Department had asked a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to set aside Cooper’s injunction.
NRDC and other environmentalist groups claim high intensity sonar damages the ears and brains of marine mammals and masks sonar emissions critical for dolphins to locate food.
“Military sonar generates an ear splitting noises that can injure or even kill marine mammals,” the NRDC said. “As it proliferates sonar is endangering the delicate web of life that has evolved over millions of years.” The Navy maintains a website explaining why it believes it is necessary to train its sonar technicians to detect quiet submarines in shallow coastal waters.
“Modern submarines operating with batteries and air propulsion technology are very quiet and particularly hard to detect in the acoustically complex near shore/shallow water environment. Therefore, sonar technicians require extensive real-life training on active and passive sonar systems to detect these vessels,” the Navy said.
“Hunting submarines in wartime is an extremely dangerous undertaking, and the United States Navy holds the absolute conviction that we must train as we fight, under realistic battle conditions, to survive such battles and win. Sailors must not have their first experience with actual sonar operations in a life-or-death combat situation,” the Navy said.
“We cannot in good conscience send American men and women into potential trouble spots without adequate training to defend themselves,” the Navy said.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) told Cybercast News Service he believes President Bush over-stepped his authority in exempting the Navy from CZMA.
“President Bush is overruling a federal judge. He doesn’t really understand the balance of powers,” said Honda.
“If scientists say they can find other ways to do it and a judge rules in favor of the environmentalists, then the president overruling the judge is the same kind of behavior President Bush always practices,” Honda added.
“He passes a law and says, ‘Well, I understand you passed a law but I want to make exceptions here, here and here.’ He is really throwing the law back into our face,” said Honda.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) said he supports the president’s decision and sees the potential for great danger if these exercises are stopped. “I like whales. I like fish, but given the nature of undersea tactical warfare that has emerged in the last 50 years, we simply can’t tie the hands of the American Navy out of concern for ocean life,” said Pence.
“Sonar represents a critical part of our naval infrastructure for the surface fleet, and I fully support the president’s recognition. It seems to me we would be pretty close to sailing blind in a lot of different parts of the world if the Navy were to concede to the wishes of some environmentalists.” Hear Audio
Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) agreed that the deep water exercises should be continued in order to ensure the security of U.S. sailors. “I am generally of the opinion that especially in time of war we make sure our forces are ready, trained and capable of doing anything that’s needed,” said Walberg, “and sometimes that means sacrifice for what we would prefer.”
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