State government speaks against Bush directive on Navy sonar use


Local government

and environmental representatives are outraged by Bush’s exemption of naval sonar training.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

California’s Office of the Governor, a state senator and a local former assembly member, as well as environmentalists, have spoken out against the Bush administration’s unprecedented override of a federal court ruling to give an exemption to the Navy in its usage of mid-range sonar training off the coast of California

“The U.S District Court has ruled that many protective restrictions must be followed during naval training operations. The governor believes the federal government and Navy should comply with the court’s order in all instances until we can know conclusively of the impact of sonar on marine life,” read a statement from the governor’s office. “The protection of our ocean, marine life and habitat is one of the governor’s highest priorities.”

The president has declared that the Navy’s need to train unhindered by environmental law was “essential to national security” and “in the paramount interest of the United States.”

At issue is the Coastal Zone Management Act, a federal law that permits states to control all activities in their coastal waters to protect state resources. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper upheld an order restricting the Navy’s training methods because of documented damage it inflicts on marine mammal life.

“Mid-range sonar operates at the same frequency as whales’ communication,” Tom Ford, spokesman for the Santa Monica Baykeeper, said. “We don’t take our national security lightly, but the president’s unfortunate decision means you’ll be seeing more dead whales on beaches.”

Studies and necropsies performed on marine mammals, including whales and dolphins, that beached themselves following sonar training showed extensive bleeding from the brain and auditory functions.

The Navy asserts that it provides enough safeguards to prevent harmful effects on oceanic life and that its training, to hunt the quiet diesel-electric submarines now operated by countries around the world is vital to national security.

President Bush’s directive has outraged local government representatives.

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, whose district encompasses Malibu, said, “I oppose the waiver and agree with Judge Cooper’s earlier ruling that provides for greater protection of marine mammals. The real emergency here is the survival of these amazing creatures and our hard-won environmental laws.”

Former State Assembly-member Fran Pavley, who is running for Kuehl’s Senate seat in November, had this to say: “I respect the need of the Navy to conduct routine exercises and train their personnel, but this is really just another example of the contempt that the president and his administration have for the environment.

“There are reasonable alternatives that would protect the … marine mammals from injury and death from sonar blasts,” Pavley continued. “Bush’s assertion that the National Environmental Protection Act can be overridden, as he has done with so many other things in the past, simply by fear mongering ‘national security,’ is outrageous. I hope the federal court judge who is hearing the Navy’s request will bring home to this administration that they are not above the law.”

In response to Bush’s directive, Judge Cooper temporarily stayed part of her injunction against the Navy’s sonar use. In a two-page order issued Jan. 17, she temporarily lifted a requirement for the Navy to shut off sonar if marine mammals are detected within 2000 meters of a sonar source and she stayed the requirement to shut off sonar during certain conditions that would allow sound to travel underwater farther than normal.

Cooper kept in place most of her original injunction, including a 12-nautical-mile no sonar buffer zone and an order respecting a no sonar zone between Catalina and San Clemente islands-a sea basin rich with marine mammal life.

However, the California Coastal Commission and the Natural Resources Defense Council have both vowed to fight the waiver in court. “It is important to distinguish that the president can write anything, but it doesn’t make it legal,” NRDC Spokesman Daniel Hinerfeld said. “We believe the original injunction against the sonar training was appropriately protective and will be presenting briefs before Judge Cooper next week.”

Sarah Christie, the legislative coordinator for the California Coastal Commission, said they were baffled by the president’s purported exemption. “This is the first time in the history of the Coastal Zone Management Act that any president has exercised [a] provision to overrule a state action protecting coastal resources. The irony here is that President Bush chose to take this unprecedented step in response to such a common sense, reasonable requirement.”

Christie said that Cooper’s court upheld this requirement in part because it mirrored the same precautions the Navy took for similar tests in Hawaii.

Navy spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet Mark Matsunaga, said, “This ruling means that the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group will be able to start the exercise next week without two restrictions that threatened the realism of our training.

“We will continue to implement the 29 protective measures, the additional mitigation developed by the Council on Environmental Quality and the other provisions in the court’s Jan. 10th order,” Matsunaga continued. “This ruling helps ensure that our sailors and marines will deploy with the best possible training. As always, we will continue to protect our nation while simultaneously remaining good stewards of the environment.”