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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Environmentalists Settle With Navy Over Use of Sonar During Training

(CN) - An environmental coalition reached an agreement with the government on a 2005 lawsuit claiming the Navy's use of mid-frequency active sonar during training exercises harmed marine mammals. The settlement focuses on research and information, and does not require any new mitigation measures - a contentious issue that played prominently in a recent Supreme Court decision favoring the Navy.

The coalition, headed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, sued again in 2007, which resulted in a federal judge imposing six specific restrictions on Navy use of the sonar when whales were nearby.

U.S. District Judge Florence Marie-Cooper also struck down President Bush's attempts to impose an executive exemption on military training exercises off the California coast.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling on the 2007 suit this October, concluded that national security trumps the protection of marine life.

The settlement announced Saturday will require the Navy to complete environmental reviews on training exercises around the world, disclose previously classified information on its use of sonar, and commit $14.75 million to new marine mammal research. The Navy also agreed to pay $1.1 million in attorneys' fees for the 2005 lawsuit along with a separate 2006 suit over the Navy's use of sonar in Hawaii.

Exposure to the high acoustic energy of mid-frequency active sonar can injure marine mammals, including critically endangered species of whales. "The Navy agrees that high-intensity military sonar can injure and kill whales, dolphins and other marine life," stated Joel Reynolds of the NRDC.

The Navy issued a statement highlighting its long-range environmental program and past investment in marine mammal research. Navy attorney Frank R. Jimenez affirmed that "the Navy welcomes an approach that relies more upon scientific research than litigation."

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