LFA Sonar, round next

Last time I was making fun of this line:

“The safety of the whales must be weighed, and so must the safety of our warriors. And of our country.”

from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (I never did find out how the average “warrior” felt about whales needing their brains blown up to keep them safe. There’s just something emasculating about it).

Now we’re on to a hold ‘nother frequency (no, seriously):

A federal judge forbade the Navy on Thursday from using a powerful form of sonar within 12 miles of the California coast and slapped other restrictions on naval war exercises in a ruling that could have repercussions in the Pacific Northwest.

U.S. District Judge Florence Marie-Cooper said noise from the Navy’s midfrequency sonar far outstrips levels at which federal rules require ear protection for humans on the job. Whales’ hearing is extremely sensitive.

“The court is persuaded that the (protection) scheme proposed by the Navy is grossly inadequate to protect marine mammals from debilitating levels of sonar exposure,” Marie-Cooper wrote in her ruling.

The Navy offered to reduce the sonar’s intensity when whales approached within about 1,100 yards and power down further before shutting the sonar off when the creatures got within 200 yards. The judge ordered sonar shut off when marine mammals are within 2,200 yards.

By the Navy’s own estimate, it would harass or harm marine mammals, as prohibited by the Endangered Species Act, about 170,000 times, the judge said. The Navy said the series of 14 exercises would temporarily deafen whales 8,000 times and cause permanent injuries in more than 400 cases.

I like those numbers. The Endangered Species Act (1973 and, seriously, Nixon really did do a tonne of cool stuff), by the by (there is also the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972), while we’re on the topic), contains passages such as

The Congress finds and declares that —

  1. various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation;
  2. other species of fish, wildlife, and plants have been so depleted in numbers that they are in danger of or threatened with extinction;
  3. these species of fish, wildlife, and plants are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people;

… the United States has pledged itself as a sovereign state in the international community to conserve to the extent practicable the various species of fish or wildlife and plants facing extinction, pursuant to —

  1. migratory bird treaties with Canada and Mexico;
  2. the Migratory and Endangered Bird Treaty with Japan;
  3. the Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere;
  4. the International Convention for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries;
  5. the International Convention for the High Seas Fisheries of the North Pacific Ocean;
  6. the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; and
  7. other international agreements;

and … encouraging the States and other interested parties, through Federal financial assistance and a system of incen-tives, to develop and maintain conservation programs which meet national and international standards is a key to meeting the Nation’s international commitments and to better safe-guarding, for the benefit of all citizens, the Nation’s heritage in fish, wildlife, and plants.

… The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved, to provide a program for the conservation of such endangered species and threatened species, and to take such steps as may be appropriate to achieve the purposes of the treaties and conventions set forth in subsection (a) of this section.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act is as lofty in its ideals (being, after all, an Act that protects even non-endangered species):

The Congress finds that —

  1. certain species and population stocks of marine mammals are, or may be, in danger of extinction or depletion as a result of man’s activities;
  2. such species and population stocks should not be permitted to diminish beyond the point at which they cease to be a significant functioning element in the ecosystem of which they are a part, and, consistent with this major objective, they should not be permitted to diminish below their optimum sustainable population.

Further measures should be immediately taken to replenish any species or population stock which has already diminished below that population. In particular, efforts should be made to protect essential habitats, including the rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance for each species of marine mammal from the adverse effect of man’s actions;

All of this, of course, means less since the military went to war against the environment (not without help, as last year’s series by the Washington Post illuminated).

This is the other problem: speaking Environmental-Economically, there isn’t a great deal on offer, in the way of options. A recalcitrant military, and complicit/compliant legislative/executive branches do not make for workable solutions to serious negative externalities. Particularly over the last 6 years – I’m sure the likes of Inhofe and Stevens (okay, possibly just Inhofe) are honest and sincere men, but to have them in charge of things like this just wasn’t helping. These are the fortunes of democracy.

More generally, though, a government cannot construct a market to solve an environmental problem, when that problem is caused by its own military (still less these days). A government can hardly tax its own military punitively for those actions. All a government can do is regulate itself. If it won’t do that, and we don’t care enough to vote our force (and, let’s face it, we don’t – we still haven’t done a damn thing to stop random mass shootings in this country. How much less do we, as an electorate, care about marine mammals?), there aren’t really any other options. No military commander is likely to turn around and announce that they think they’ve played with their billion-dollar toys long enough for the time being, and anyway dolphins are getting hurt.

Final quote:

The service said exercises off Southern California are important because they give sailors training around undersea mountain ranges like those where they might chase subs elsewhere in the world.

“Despite the care the court took in crafting its order, we do not believe it struck the right balance between national security and environmental concerns,” said Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon.

Give a person a hammer, and every problem looks like a nail. It’s the definitions of “national security” that deliberately exclude the environment that are the problem.

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