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Congress strips power from environmental law

navy sonar dead sperm whale
photo: Sandy Dubpernel
  In a huge environmental
set-back, and a truly
sad development,
Congress grants the
Department of Defense
their requested exemptions
Read news reports
from around the world

Read NRDC response

Many congressmen spoke
out against this Bill

Tell congress to reverse
this tragic decision
Less than 3 months after being defeated in US Court, the Department of Defense was successful in adding language to the Defense Authorization Bill which re-writes environmental law.

We need your help!!!   Tell congress to reverse this decision and SIGN OUR PETITION!!!

Following 3 months of closed-door negotiations, and in an apparent rush to pass defense-related legislation on Veterans Day, HR 1588 emerged from committee with the Department of Defense exemptions still in place. Given only hours to review and debate the bill, it is hard to imagine that the full extent of this bill was fully considered. Many Congressmen have expressed dissatisfaction over the manner in which this bill was rammed through Congress.
"I also must object to the procedure in bringing this conference report to the Floor. We were once again given only hours to read a conference report that ran hundreds and hundreds of pages. This is a disturbing pattern that seems to surface when we are required to vote on controversial legislation. Are Members not anymore supposed to at least review legislation before voting?"
-- Hon. Ron Paul of Texas in the House of Representatives, Friday, November 7, 2003
Still others expressed concern over the Marine Mammal Protection Act language, stating that it is unnecessary and puts Ocean Natives at risk.
Marine mammal protection is under its greatest fire today. Although unnecessary from the start, a full exemption from the MMPA was granted for military readiness activities in the version of this bill that passed the House on May 22, 2003. The Senate version of the bill contained no MMPA exemption for any reason. How then did it come to pass that the Conference Report we debate today broadens the exemption to include scientific research activities by the Federal Government?
-- Hon. Sam Farr of California in the House of Representatives, Friday, November 7, 2003
In fact, neither the House nor the Senate Committee on Armed Services has jurisdiction over the Marine Mammal Protection Act - that responsibility falls to the House and Senate Committees on Resources. There is a growing recognition that this Bill needs to be corrected. Several members stated that they would work to resolve problems with this Bill, and we support their continuing fight.
In addition, key conservation terms of the Marine Mammal Protection Act are altered in order to overturn a recent Federal court of appeals decision regarding the impacts of Navy sonar technology. The bill allows the Department to exempt itself from what's left of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for anything necessary for national defense. It excludes any meaningful involvement of the wildlife agencies, the States, Congress and the public in review of these exemptions. This contradicts language passed unanimously this week by the Resources Committee--the House committee with exclusive jurisdiction over the MMPA--which does not contain any special standards or exemptions for DOD. This has raised the ire of both Democratic and Republican Resources Committee Members participating in the Conference.
-- Hon. Earl Blumenauer of Michigan in the House of Representatives, Friday, November 7, 2003
Notwithstanding, the bill has passed both the House and Senate, and is now on it's way to the White House. We remain committed to protecting our Ocean Natives, and will continue to fight the exemptions provided by this Bill.

==> Full text of HR 1588 (as agreed to by House & Senate), can be found here...

==> Comments made by dissatisfied Congressmen can be found here...

==> News reports from around the world can be found here...

==> NRDC response can be found here...

An overview of the
DoD exemptions
The Defense Authorization Bill of FY 2004 grants amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) which:
  • for the MILITARY ONLY, make more permissive the core definition of harassment ("LIKELY TO" and "SIGNIFICANT POTENTIAL"),
  • remove protective wording ("SMALL NUMBERS" and "SPECIFIED GEOGRAPHICAL REGION"),
  • provide full exemptions for the Department of Defense ("EXEMPT ANY ACTION ... FROM COMPLIANCE") for any 2 year period.
The Defense Department claims that its proposals would merely "clarify" the MMPA and achieve a "balance" between military needs and environmental protection.
"The Secretary of Defense, after conferring with the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of the Interior, or both, as appropriate, may exempt any action or category of actions undertaken by the Department of Defense or its components from compliance with any requirement of this Act, if the Secretary determines that it is necessary for national defense." -- HR 1588
However, the proposals allow for broad, categorical exemptions to all of the Act's requirements, and would make the Act's most significant protection - public review and comment - obsolete.

==> Full text of the House's version (H.R. 1588) is here
==> Full text of the Senate's version (S. 747) is here

Thankfully, a large number of environmental organizations have performed an in-depth analysis of the requested amendments, and have submitted the following jointly written statement to the House Armed Services Committee.

==> Full text of the analysis is here

The DoD requested the
law be changed because
they were defeated in court:
this Summary Judgement
finds that existing
US laws protect Ocean Natives
Federal Court Restricts Global Deployment of Navy Sonar
(NRDC Press Release)

A federal judge ruled today (August, 2003) that the Navy's plan to deploy a new high-intensity sonar system violates numerous federal environmental laws and could endanger whales, porpoises and fish. In a 73-page opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte barred the Navy's planned around-the-world deployment and ordered the Navy to reduce the system's potential harm to marine mammals and fish by negotiating limits on its use with conservation groups who had sued over its deployment.

==> Full text of the Summary Judgement is here

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