Bush and Navy Lose High Court Appeal Over Sonar Use


Recently, President Bush had attempted to use his power to exempt the Navy from laws partially restricting the use of sonar on the California coast.

sonarA naval sonar operator on the USS Conquest in the late 80s

The restrictions were meant to protect marine mammals in the area after a rash of evidence suggesting the animals were being harmed and even killed by sonar use. The move further damaged Bush’s already tarnished reputation with environmentalists, many of whom called the act an abuse of presidential power.

Now it appears that Bush’s efforts may be in vain. A three-man panel of judges from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that denied the Navy exemption from the restrictions. This means the Navy must take steps during its sonar training activities to minimize any negative impact to marine life.

The ruling means the Navy must not use mid-frequency active radar, generally used for submarine hunting, within 12 miles of the California coast. This part of the Pacific is home to a large population of marine animals, including endangered whales and dolphins.

Environmental groups have been trying to draw attention to the effect of sonar use on marine animals for years. Researchers have found cases of mass strandings they argue are caused by sonar blasts. They even found cases of sonar causing bleeding from the eyes and ears.

President Bush said the area must be used for training for national security purposes and had exempted the Navy from the ruling, originally handed down by a lower court in January. A federal judge quickly rejected that argument, but the Navy appealed.

Now a circuit court panel has again rejected the argument. The Navy has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court within 30 days, but must abide by the majority of the restrictions until they issue a final ruling.

According to Joel Reynolds, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s marine mammal protection project, the court “found that the Navy must be environmentally responsible when training with high intensity sonar, and that doing so won’t interfere with military readiness.”

The group is happy over the ruling, which they believe will set a precedent for current and future legal battles between environmental groups and the military. Sonar’s effect on marine life has been a hot topic in California and Hawaii, two places with large naval presences and marine animal populations.

Info from Reuters