Hooray! At long last the Navy is giving the public a voice in the Pacific Northwest. As required by the National Environmental Policy Act (and as prodded by NRDC in multiple lawsuits seeking the Navy to comply with the law), the Navy has finally issued a draft environmental impact statement evaluating the environmental consequences of its Northwest Training Range Complex. The public has until February 11, 2009 to submit comments.
Boo! NRDC has received several reports from individuals who have been unable to submit comments and/or unable to access information on the Navy's web site, obviously making it extremely difficult for them to exercise their right to comment on the impact statement. This is a real problem when the public has only a limited time to voice their concerns.
The importance of this comment period cannot be overstated. This is the public's first - and only - opportunity to submit comments and concerns to the Navy regarding its Northwest Training Range Complex. The range itself is huge, encompassing more than 122,440 square nautical miles (that's almost the size of the state of Montana) and stretching from Washington State to northern California.
Training activities will pose significant risks to nine threatened and endangered species, including the critically endangered Southern Resident killer whale population, of which there are roughly 70 left in the world. Among other environmentally damaging training activities, the Navy plans to increase its use of mid-frequency active sonar - a technology known to significantly disrupt whale behavior and cause disorientation, hearing loss, injury, and even death in some species of marine mammals.
Yet the Navy has inexplicably rejected a long list of mitigation measures that could reduce the harmful effects of its sonar training, choosing instead to adopt measures that courts have found to be "woefully inadequate and ineffectual."
NRDC is currently writing extensive comments on the Navy's draft environmental impact statement, asking it to properly analyze impacts on marine mammals as well as to adopt sufficient measures to mitigate its sonar training. Given the glitches in the Navy's web site, we have also asked for an extension of the public comment period. We'll see what, if anything, the Navy gives back.
Update: On February 6, the Navy extended the public comment period by one week. The public now has until February 18 to submit comments.