WASHINGTON (CN) – The nation’s high court agreed to hear the Bush administration’s appeal of the 9th Circuit refusal to exempt Navy sonar training from environmental laws on the grounds that the training missions are “essential to national security.”
In March, the appellate court upheld a modified injunction requiring the Navy to abide by extensive safeguards aimed at protecting whales, dolphins and other marine mammals from the harmful sonic blasts.
Judge Fletcher wrote that the challenged mitigation measures “will not likely compromise the Navy’s ability to effectively train and certify its west-coast strike groups.”
The court stressed the importance of balancing the protection of marine life with national security. In a concurrent order, the circuit slightly modified the mitigation measures, giving the Navy a 30-day reprieve from some of the stricter safeguards until it finished the remaining eight of 14 exercises scheduled that month.
More than 37 species of marine mammals are found in the biologically diverse waters off the coast of southern California. Nine of those species are listed as endangered or threatened, including the blue whale, fin whale, sperm whale, sea otter and Stellar sea lion. Exposure to “very high” acoustic energy levels may impair marine mammals’ sense of sight, balance, hearing and direction, and may injure their lungs, intestines and other internal organs.
The justices agreed to take up the case without comment.