Sonar Case Remanded to District Court

Federal Appeals Court Tells Trial Judge to Consider White House Waivers

LOS ANGELES (January 16, 2008) – A federal appellate court this afternoon sent a controversial case involving U.S. Navy sonar exercises back to the trial court where the case originated.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper should decide the merits of an emergency motion filed last night by the Navy, which included waivers issued by the Bush administration purporting to exempt the Navy from complying with an injunction issued by Judge Cooper. That injunction ordered the Navy to minimize harm to whales and dolphins during upcoming sonar exercises off Southern California.
The Navy appealed that injunction to the Ninth Circuit, and last night submitted the waivers -- one signed by President Bush himself -- claiming that the Navy was exempt from the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the two statutes on which the injunction was based.
In fact, the waivers are illegal, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which obtained the underlying injunction against the Navy.
In issuing the injunction, Judge Cooper found that the Navy’s scheme to mitigate harm had been “grossly inadequate to protect marine mammals from debilitating levels of sonar exposure” in Southern California’s rich biological waters. Her injunction required the Navy to maintain a 12 nautical mile no-sonar buffer zone along the California coastline; to shut down sonar when marine mammals were spotted within 2,000 meters; and to monitor for marine mammals using various methods, among other measures.
Judge Cooper is now expected to rule on whether the Navy must abide by the protections she established.
“This is not a national security issue,” said Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney and director of NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “The Navy doesn’t need to harm whales to train effectively with sonar. It simply chooses to for the sake of convenience.” 
For more information about the effect of sonar on marine mammals, see “Sounding the Depths II: The Rising Toll of Sonar, Shipping and Industrial Ocean Noise on Marine Life