Only weeks after new scientific studies revealed that U.S. Navy sonar testing is lethal to whales, the Bush administration won approval on November 7 to authorize the use of military sonar whenever and wherever Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfied wishes to deploy it.
The Bill moves to the Senate next week and it is expected to pass.
"Whales and dolphins are now to be sacrificed to George Bush's ridiculous strategies to combat terrorism." Said Captain Paul Watson. "The President says that the security of the United States from terrorism justifies these extreme measures but I can't think of one terrorist organization deploying nuclear submarines and that is the only thing that justifies low frequency sonar detection. This is simply another pork barrel windfall for the defense industry."
Earlier this year Navy sonar testing near the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Pacific Northwest stressed Orca populations and killed several harbor porpoises.
The legislation is part of a $401 billion defense bill that gives the secretary of defense the right to exempt from the provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act "any action or category of actions" undertaken by the armed forces.
Without this legislation the Navy had required the approval of the National Marine Fisheries Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The new law requires only that the defense secretary notify environmental regulators of his intentions.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the bill embodied "common-sense environmental reforms allowing our troops to properly train."
Critics find this very confusing because training troops should have nothing to do with bursting the eardrums of defenseless dolphins.
Navy spokesman Cappy Surette stated "The Navy finds the language (of the Marine Mammal Protection Act) extremely constrictive."
The Marine Mammal Protection Act was adopted under the Nixon administration and to protect diminishing populations of seals, whales and dolphins. The Bush administration appears to have little concern about protecting marine mammals or endangered species.
We cannot trust George Bush to protect the whales," said Captain Watson. "The military is now above the law and thus above the people."
The legislation will undo the recent court victory by the Natural Resources Defense Council to limit the power and the range of the sonar. What the Navy could not achieve in the courts of the land they now can have given to them by the Executive.
The lawsuit spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council was settled in mid-October when the Navy agreed to limit deployment of the new, low frequency sonar, which can reach hundreds of miles underwater.
Marine conservationist the world over were overjoyed that the system had worked for the whales and dolphins. It appears that when the system does work in favor of conservation it will simply be negated by dictatorial legislation.
Negotiators from the House and Senate finished the bill on Friday, November 7. The Bill is 712 pages of extremely complicated text, such as this bit from the part about marine mammals:
"The term 'Level A harassment' means harassment described in subparagraph(A)(i) or, in the case of military readiness activity or scientific research activity described in subparagraph (B), harassment described in subparagraph (B)(i)."
Congressional Members had about three hours to read the bill. To finish it, they would have had to take in about four pages per minute between the time it was released about dawn and debate began at midmorning. Among those who objected to the rush and refused to vote for or against the measure was Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash.
"Rubber-stamping laws without reading them is not what this nation was meant to be about, and not what this Congress should be about," he said. "How ironic that the legislation authorizing the defense of this great republic does such a disservice to the very principles of republican government."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, charged: "Using defense as cover, they are proposing changes to environmental laws that have nothing to do with defense readiness."
Efforts by opponents to limit the application of the law to wartime, or to activities directly related to military readiness, were rejected.
A recent scientific study said whales near naval exercises where sonar was used appeared to get a sometimes-fatal version of the bends, the nitrogen sickness suffered by human scuba divers. The study followed a string of whale deaths in the vicinity of naval exercises in several places around the globe. All involved common mid-frequency sonar, not the newer, more-powerful low-frequency version.
The Bush administration sought a number of exemptions to environmental laws, winning some and losing some:
Congress gave the military the right to police itself as far as protecting "critical habitat" for endangered and threatened species.
The Defense Department's request for exemptions to the Clean Air Act did not succeed. Military efforts to win a reprieve from laws governing handling of hazardous chemicals and cleanup of toxic waste sites were denied.
Once again in the name of "defending freedom", military strength has been increased and the powers of the courts weakened, whales and dolphins are to be sacrificed and habitat is to be destroyed. It reminds one of a slogan from the Vietnam War - "we had to destroy the village in order to save."