Activists upset Over Navy exemption

January 16, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
President Bush intends to exempt the Navy from an environmental law, so it can continue doing sonar training that hurt's whales off the California coast.

The Navy uses high-powered sonar for anti-submarine warfare training in Southern California.

But, as we first reported years ago in an ABC7 news I-Team investigation, critics say the sonar is so loud it can cause brain damage in whales and dolphins.

In early January, a federal court ordered the Navy to limit sonar blasts off the coast of California. But President Bush said using sonar to find enemy submarines is "essential to national security." and he declared the Navy exempt from certain environmental laws.

"We feel that what's going on is an attempt to snub congress, snub the courts, ignore the laws and we really don't think this should happen and ultimately it won't happen," said Daniel Heinerfeld from the National Resources Defense Council.

"It's important that the Navy be able to send trained sailors to sea to protect us and our interests around the globe. They cannot do that if there are excessive, unnecessary restrictions on their ability to do realistic training at sea," said retired Rear Admiral Stephen Pietropaoli from the Navy League of U.S.

Even a Navy study acknowledges its sonar is affecting 30 species of marine mammal, off the coast of California including the endangered blue whale.

"The President by making this statement is influencing the posture of that case as it goes to the 9th Circuit," said Professor David Caron from UC Berkeley Law School.

UC Berkeley environmental law Professor David Caron says the president's weight can play a pivotal role as the Navy, almost certainly, will appeal the judge's ruling to use the sonar safely.

"She's not saying never do it. She's saying do it with certain precautions," said Prof. Caron.

The precautions include accessing and monitoring the health of marine mammals while conducting training exercises. Caron suggests the president's exemption, signifies that even these measures are not necessary.

But late Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court sent the case back to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to determine if the president's exemption is legal.


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