Major Turning Point in Our Fight to Save Whales

Last week, NRDC settled a significant case with the Navy. In 2005, we challenged mid-frequency active sonar training exercises that were being carried out around the world without the adequate environmental review required by federal law.

Despite mounting evidence that such sonar can kill and seriously injure marine mammals, the Navy refused to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act before using this dangerous technology.

Since our lawsuit was filed, and as a result of other cases that we have pursued since 2002, the Navy has now begun to prepare and issue Environmental Impact Statements ("EISs") for their major exercises and proposed sonar ranges, thereby addressing one of the major legal issues in the case.

In all, the five-part settlement that the Navy agreed to late last week includes:

  • A specific schedule for preparation of EISs for sonar exercises and ranges around the world.
  • Public disclosure of previously classified information on sonar use.
  • $14.75 million dollars in funding for new marine mammal research that was specifically identified by the environmental plaintiffs.
  • A 120-day process for negotiation with the Navy when future sonar proposals are finalized and disagreements arise.
  • $1.1 million dollars in attorneys' fees for time spent on this case and a 2006 sonar case in Hawaii.

The agreement does not require the Navy to institute any specific measures that it has utilized in the past to protect whales, because those are matters of continuing disagreement among the parties. But the agreement reflects both progress over the past five years by the Navy in its attention to environmental compliance requirements and the mutual interest of all parties in transparency, more thorough environmental review, and focused research.

And while it establishes a formal process for negotiation with the Navy that may avoid future litigation, it does not foreclose litigation as an option where necessary.

With this and other cases, NRDC is forcing the Navy to comply with our environmental laws, and we've reached a major turning point in our fight to protect our ocean's majestic mammals.