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Rumsfeld, congressional allies on verge of rolling back MMPA

Stop LFAS WorldwideNetwork

8th November 2003

Rumsfeld and his congressional allies on the verge of gutting protections for marine mammals

For the past two years, the environmental community has been fighting the Pentagon’s campaign to roll back the Marine Mammal Protection Act ("MMPA") – the law that for over 30 years has helped save this country’s whales, porpoises, and other marine mammals. Despite our efforts, dramatic exemptions to the MMPA were attached as a rider to the new Defense Authorization bill. Because the defense bill is considered "must-pass" legislation, the exemptions are almost certain to be enacted.

To put it simply, this rider represents the greatest single rollback of marine mammal protection in the last 30 years and could have disastrous consequences for populations of whales and other species off our coasts. It would allow marine mammals to be needlessly harassed, injured, and killed by activities ranging from sonar exercises to the testing of underwater explosives. And, incredibly, it comes just as the committees with actual jurisdiction and expertise over marine mammals have begun their work of reauthorizing the Act. The rider would:

Undermine a core provision of the statute. The rider appears to open major loopholes in the Act’s definitions of "injury" and "behavioural disruption.” As these definitions lie at the heart of the statute’s entire regulatory scheme, such tampering – as the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission has testified – could well undermine the precautionary philosophy that has been the hallmark of the MMPA since 1972. Pentagon activities that harm marine mammals could simply evade review under the Act. To make matters worse, the new definitions would apply not only to military activities but also to all government-funded research as well, a provision that may easily be exploited by industry groups.

Gut environmental review for DOD activities. The rider would create a parallel review process for Defense Department activities that provide only a shadow of the protections available under current law. Under the Act, there would now be no limit to the numbers of marine mammals the Pentagon could kill and harm, no limit to the range of coastal habitat its activities could impact. And, thanks to a last-minute addition, there is less certainty about the Pentagon’s duty to mitigate the damage that would follow.

Create an irresponsible exemption for DOD activities. The rider would give the Pentagon a categorical exemption that combines the most irresponsible features of similar provisions written into other environmental statutes. With no more than a phone call to the wildlife agencies, Secretary Rumsfeld would be able to exempt entire classes of activities from every provision of the statute. The lack of any meaningful restrictions or accountability in this provision could render the Act virtually meaningless.

The rider would not overturn the landmark agreement, reached by the Navy and environmental groups last month, on the testing of dangerous new "low-frequency" sonar. The rider simply does not cover the sheer breadth of the legal violations committed by the Bush Administration, on which that agreement rests. But its broader implications are dramatic and should offend everyone who cares about the future of marine mammals and of America’s coasts.

Contact: Joel Reynolds,

NRDC (310-434-2300);

Gerry Leape, NET (202-887-8800)