In an unprecedented ruling yesterday afternoon, Judge Florence-Marie Cooper constrained the Navy from deploying mid-frequency sonar in state waters. While at first brush this case may appear to be about establishing a balance between national security and the environment, in truth it is about putting a limit on how unlawful our navy can be in the execution of their mission.
This specific case has been in the works since December 2006, when the Navy received a “consistency determination” from the California Coastal Commission (CCC) about the use of sonar in training exercises off of California. A number of us, including Joel Reynolds (NRDC), Mark Palmer (Earth Island) presented our concerns about the determination at the CCC meeting in December 2006 and again in January 2007. At the end of this stage the Navy was asked to implement mitigations while in California EEZ waters. The Navy’s first volley along this trajectory was to exempt themselves from the Endangered Species Act. The court case brought on by NRDC and joined by the CCC ensued.
In her ruling, Judge Cooper did not constrain the Navy from doing their exercises (they are not constrained from operating in areas more than 12 miles from California land) she just asked them to not be reckless in California EEZ waters. The Navy claims that national security and fleet preparedness are being compromised for environmental concerns. I suggest that a reasonable balance was struck between the will of the Navy and the environmental laws protecting our state waters. The ruling affirms that the United States is above all, a nation of laws.
Thanks to Joel Reynolds with NRDC, Peter Douglas and Sara Wan with the Coastal Commission, all who showed up at the CCC meetings, and all of you who wrote letters of support and concern about this issue.