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Soundings Archive

NRDC Challenges Navy Sonar Exemption
The Natural resources Defense Council and other Enviro NGOs have incessantly sued the Navy over sonar. NRDC claims that Navy sonar hurts marine mammals like whales. The Navy claims that it needs to practice sonar in order to defend the United States and in order to protect its sailors to the extent possible.

The latest litigation is in California federal courts. The NRDC has so far succeeded in persuading the courts to issue injunctions against Navy sonar use off the coast of southern California, but the scope and details of the injunction are still at issue.

On January 15, 2008, President Bush, pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 1456(c) (1) (B), exempted the Navy's use of sonar off southern California from the provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. President Bush found in his exemption that this use of Navy sonar is "essential to the national security" and is in the "paramount interest of the United States."

On the same day, the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality found "emergency circumstances" and, pursuant to 40 C.F.R. 1506.11, provided for "alternative arrangements" that allow the Navy to conduct its southern California sonar operations and still comply with the National Environmental Policy Act so long as the Navy follows the alternative arrangements.

The case is bouncing back and forth between the United States District Court for the Central District of California and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case is now at the district court, where NRDC argues that the Presidential exemption and CEQ "alternative arrangements" are illegal. Stay tuned.

  • Click here to read Ninth Circuit order remanding case to district court to review exemption and alternative arrangements.

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