Thomas Gallatin / July 20, 2016

Court Sinks Navy Over Whales

The Ninth Circuit says federal rules don’t go far enough in protecting whales.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that federal rules don’t give enough protection to inhabitants of the world’s oceans. This ruling was a reversal of a lower court’s ruling in 2012 that had approved of rules for naval peacetime operations. It was not that the Navy had gone beyond the regulations. The court stated, “We have every reason to believe that the Navy has been deliberate and thoughtful” in keeping the rules, but the court believed that the rules did not go far enough in protecting marine mammals — specifically whales.

The ruling on the federal regulations dealt specifically with the Navy’s use of low-frequency sonar, which is used by the Navy primarily in the detection of submarines. What environmental groups have contested is that the use of this sonar technology is dangerous to various mammal sea life, specifically whales. It is known that sonar activity affects whales, but it is not well established specifically how dangerous the activity is to the whales.

In 2008 a California judge had ruled that naval ships using sonar had to stay clear of a 12-mile wide stretch along the coast. This ruling was challenged by the Navy and later that year the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of the Navy, concluding that national security was of greater importance than specious environmental concerns.

This latest ruling once again pits environmental groups and their interests against that of national security. While it is rarely a good idea to dismiss environmental concerns out right, the ability of the U.S. to defended itself is of a higher priority. For without the security secured by our nation’s military forces, Americans would not enjoy the freedom to engage in promoting protections for the environment.

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