On Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee passed a bill, called the “SECURE American Energy Act” (H.R. 4239), that can only be described as an oil industry wish-list. The bill’s purpose is to mow down environmental concerns that stand in the way of the complete exploitation of fossil fuels in this country. For the oceans, this would mean an end to national monument designation and to some of those pesky safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater spill, among other things. And although it hasn’t received much attention—yet—one late addition to the bill targets marine mammals in a very big way.
H.R. 4239 would eviscerate one of the core provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the law that for more than 45 years has been the bulwark of conservation for many of our most iconic ocean species. The Protection Act works by placing safeguards on human activities, like offshore oil exploration, that harm whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals. Simply put, H.R. 4239 would gut a whole lot of those safeguards.
What would this mean for marine mammal protection? For starters:
- H.R. 4239 would allow industry to harm huge numbers of marine mammals, by killing the safeguard limiting its impacts to “small numbers.”
- It would eliminate the requirement that activities have the “least practicable impact” on marine mammals, allowing industry to proceed without attempting to minimize harm.
- It would prevent the wildlife agencies from requiring industry to monitor the long-term consequences of its actions.
- It would establish an impossibly short timeline for the wildlife agencies to review industry activities for their marine mammal impacts, and automatically permit those activities if the agencies fail to meet it.
- And, having turned much of our marine mammal law into a dead letter, it would exempt industry from having to comply with Endangered Species Act protections for marine mammals as well.
Destroying the Marine Mammal Protection Act would pave the way for seismic blasting—the first big step in oil and gas development—off the east coast. As my colleagues and I have written, the industry’s blasting is known to seriously compromise marine life from zooplankton to fish to the great baleen whales, and scientists have warned of “significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts” on entire species and populations if the oil industry gets the green light. Blasting the Atlantic is broadly opposed by more than 120 coastal communities from southern New Jersey to Florida, by more than 40,000 coastal businesses, by fishing associations, Chambers of Commerce, and more. But the oil industry doesn’t care what the coast thinks.
Nor, of course, does it care about the love that people in this country have for whales and other marine mammals. In a recent poll, some 76% of Americans said they want to protect marine mammals from threats, including from offshore oil and gas exploration, and 73% said they support the Marine Mammal Protection Act. When the Committee released its bill, there was no mention of its bid to gut the Act in its press release, and that’s not surprising. If I were them, I wouldn’t want to let folks know what I was doing here either.
The “SECURE American Energy Act” (H.R. 4239) may come to a vote on the House floor this week. Please demand that your representatives strongly oppose this legislation and its attack on marine mammals. You can sign our petition here; and you can go here to find the office number of your Congressional representative and give them a call.