Tag Archives: Natural Resources Defense Council

Legal battle over Navy sonar is settled out of court

The ongoing legal battle over the Navy’s use of mid-frequency sonar was ended with an out-of-court settlement while I was on vacation over Christmas break.

An Associated Press report by Audrey McAvoy, carried by several newspapers, covered only the Navy’s perspective, because the Navy announced the agreement on a Saturday.

Read on down below for the story I wrote for Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun.

If you’d like to peruse the settlement agreement (PDF 2.5 mb), you can download a copy from the Kitsap Sun’s Web site, although I’m told it will eventually be posted on the Web site of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

To understand the context, check out the Navy’s news release as well as a news release from NRDC.
Continue reading

Reaction to the sonar ruling by the Navy and NRDC

Navy officials and attorneys with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which brought the sonar lawsuit, offered these responses to today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

For further details about the ruling, see the entry below in Watching Our Water Ways.

Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter:
“This case was vital to our Navy and Nation’s security, and we are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision in this matter. We can now continue to train our Sailors effectively, under realistic combat conditions, and certify our crews “combat ready” while continuing to be good stewards of the marine environment.”

Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of Naval Operations:

“We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision on this case of vital importance to our National Security. We will continue to train realistically and certify the Sailors and Marines of our Navy strike groups in a manner that protects our nation’s security and the precious maritime environment.”

Lt. Sean Robertson, media relations action officer, CHINFO

“Without the crippling restrictions contained in the preliminary injunction, our Sailors can train realistically and the Navy is able to certify our forces are ready for Anti-Submarine Warfare, reducing risk to our Sailors and national security, while simultaneously protecting the environment. The Navy appreciates the careful consideration and prompt review the Court gave this important case involving national security.”

Rear Adm. James A. Symonds, commander of Navy Region Northwest
“Although this decision does not directly affect the Puget Sound, some SONAR training does occur on a smaller scale in the Northwest training ranges. It is important that our Sailors are able to train as they would be called to fight, in a realistic environment.

“When Sailors train, they adhere to the 29 protective mitigation measures whenever mid-frequency active SONAR is needed to minimize potential harm to marine mammals. This includes posting lookouts, power-down and shut-down requirements. The Navy is preparing an environmental impact statement to comprehensively analyze the effects of all Navy activities in the Northwest training ranges.”

Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of NRDC’s marine mammal program:

“The Supreme Court held that the lower courts did not properly balance the competing interests at stake, and struck down two significant safeguards that reduce harm to whales from high-intensity sonar training.

“The decision places marine mammals at greater risk of serious and needless harm. However, it is a narrow ruling that leaves in place four of the injunction’s six safeguards. It is significant that the court did not overturn the underlying determination that the Navy likely violated the law by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement.”

Richard Kendall, NRDC co-counsel:
“It is gratifying that the court did not accept the Navy’s expansive claims of executive power, and that two thirds of the injunction remains intact.”

See the full press release from NRDC

Another informed viewpoint on the sonar debate

Jim Cummings, who founded the Acoustic Ecology Institute in Santa Fe, N.M., has stepped up to become an unofficial moderator in the sonar debate between the U.S. Navy and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Cummings’ report, called “AEI FactCheck: Navy/NRDC Sonar Debate,” finds fault with both the Navy and the environmental group for over-stating or under-stating the actual impacts of sonar. I don’t have the expertise to judge his judgment, but I am encouraged by his ability to weigh the two viewpoints. As I’ve said before, this whole issue has been a balancing act.

If you are interested in the issue of underwater noise, I encourage you to dig down into the AEI Web site.

The following is a sample of Cummings’ analysis to show how he discusses some controversial questions, including whale mortalities, behavioral changes, the Navy’s needs, and so on. This one deals with Level B harassment, which occurs when a marine mammal changes its behavior or experiences temporary hearing loss:

Continue reading

Use of low-frequency sonar may expand in the future

The Navy has agreed to limit its use of low-frequency active sonar during testing and training exercises for the next five years. See the Associated Press story by Marcus Wohlsen in the Kitsap Sun.

LFA sonar involves loud blasts of low-frequency sound, which travel long distances in the ocean. It’s safe to say that advancements in this new technology are still being made, and this settlement is far from the end of the story. Most of the news reports I’ve seen have missed the point that this is a five-year permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the issue will come up again and again.

Years ago, the Navy planned to deploy LFA sonar on many of its ships, and it could return to those plans one day. For now, the Navy is planning to use it on four ships.

The story is complicated because it goes back to the original permit issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service. The permit, challenged by the Natural Resources Defense Council, would have allowed deployment of LFA over 75 percent of the world’s oceans. This settlement (PDF 360 kb) limits the deployment for testing, training and routine surveillance to the Western Pacific Ocean near Japan and The Philippines plus areas north and south of the Hawaiian Islands.

While it limits locations for testing and training, the agreement does not limit the use of LFA sonar during conditions of combat, potential combat or heightened threat conditions.

The settlement remains a trade-off, because there is no guarantee that marine mammals won’t be present in the areas of testing or training. One thing that would help is more research on the movement of whales and marine mammals, so the Navy can plan their operations with the least risk to sea life. With better understanding of both the technology and its effects of marine animals, the Navy could reasonably expect to expand its use of this technology to protect the nation’s interests. For details, check out the Navy’s LFA page.

Another issue worthy of attention is the proliferation of LFA sonar by other countries, including Canada, France and Great Britain.

Michael Jasny, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said he would like to see the U.S. State Department work out agreements with other countries about when and how potentially damaging acoustic transmitters would be deployed.

“We’ve been trying to involve regional seas agreements, conventions and processes that would have guidelines for these systems,” Jasny told me. “In the Mediterranean, for example, habitat has been established for marine protected areas. What we’ve been advocating is the formulation of guidelines that would identify where sonar training should not occur. It would be ‘soft law” and would not impose an affirmative duty, but it would be a huge step in the right direction.”

To make sure there’s no confusion. LFA sonar is different from the mid-frequency sonar used by many ships since World War II. Mid-frequency sonar has been implicated in the deaths of whales, but the effects are much more localized. Mid-frequency sonar remains the subject of a lawsuit between NRDC and the Navy now before the U.S. Supreme Court.