ESA and NEPA threats

While the following issues are not specifically about ocean noise pollution, they will impact the regulatory environment that allows us to protect our ocean from the “death of a thousand (ticker-tape) cuts.” Depending on how these issues fall, all of our conservation work may become much more difficult in the future.

With apologies for a long email, covered below are:

  • Lifting the drilling moratorium on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) (with consequential chemical, oil and noise pollution).
  • Statutory attack on the Endangered Species Act
  • Judicial threat on the Endangered Species Act
  • Regulatory threat to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

OCS Moratorium

On top of everyone’s list is the OCS Drilling Moratorium. Most of us have heard the “numbers” arguments on how little impact increased domestic supplies will have; on how sustainable energy would provide a quicker and more economic answer; on how altering some simple behaviors would provide the carminative at the pump that many Americans seek.

Unfortunately these discussions seem too complex for the media mind. Hopefully Rep. Pelosi’s proposal to link lifting the OCS moratorium with tax incentives for sustainable energy and the elimination of some of the tax subsidies for oil companies will be enough of a ‘poison pill’ to sink an OCS vote.

The R’s will continue their call for an “up or down vote” on the OCS moratorium. Politics is all about horse trading, so requesting an “up or down vote” reveals the petroleum industry’s true agenda on the issue: More oil profits subsidized by the US Taxpayers.

What you can do:

Contact your representative and ask them to maintain the ‘sustainable energy incentives’ and ‘eliminating oil industry subsidies’ links to the lifting of the OCS drilling ban.

You can reach your reps through the capitol switchboard (202)224-3121 or locate them on the capitol directory:

The Endangered Species Act threatened: Rewriting the law

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was written and enacted under Richard Nixon (arguably the last environmental president). It was written to protect individual species from extinction due to human activities and enterprise.

Whale conservation played heavily into the forging of this keystone bill, and while the bill is a blunt tool, it has proven very effective over the years in protecting our natural legacy from wholesale plunder by various commercial, military and industrial interests.

ESA is blunt because when it was passed in 1973 the idea of “ecosystem based management” was not in the conservation vocabulary. As a consequence, preserving habitat through the ESA has depended on highlighting single “indicator species” such as the spotted owl, the marbled murrelet, or the snail darter to stand proxy for entire ecosystems.

This is the very weakness that is being brought to task in the current attack on the ESA. The Bush administration is proposing some fundamental changes in ESA that will eviscerate its effectiveness.

Much of their incentive for this action orbits around the listing of the Polar Bear as endangered as a consequence of global warming. As currently written, if the Polar Bear gets listed, greenhouse gas producing activities could be regulated due to environmental impacts on the bear (talk about a blunt tool…). While the ESA is not really suitable for the task of regulating greenhouse gasses, it is what we have at the moment.

The proposed changes to ESA were introduced in the Federal Register (50 CFR Part 402) last Friday – while congress is in recess – and in a perversion on NEPA, given only 30 days for public comment (not the usually required 45 days).

For a more in-depth treatment of this issue see:

What you can do:

Contact your representative through the capitol switchboard (202)224-3121 or locate them on the capitol directory: and urge them to resist the Bush Administration’s move to rewrite the Endangered Species Act.

The Endangered Species Act threatened redux: Taking it to the Supreme Court

The judicial threat to the ESA did spring out of the ocean noise pollution issue. If you have been following the NRDC/California Costal Commission v. the US Navy, the last round was in the District Court, and the Navy did not get a favorable judgment.

They have taken this to the Supreme Court to determine if National Security trumps environmental sustainability. While the ESA does have military exemptions for times of “heightened security” the Navy will be seeking exemption from ESA altogether.

Given the current makeup of the court this does not bode well.

What you can do:

Prayers might help. Send a few bucks to NRDC and let them know it is for the navy sonar case.

Compromising the National Environmental Policy Act

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) establishes the overarching national framework for protecting our environment. NEPA’s basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment.

Part of the “proper consideration” here includes public review of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) of the proposed actions. Depending on the scope and scale of the proposal the public is given from 45 to 90 days to review and comment on the EIS. The comments are considered by the issuing agency and the proposed action is revised as indicated by the comments.

In an effort to “streamline” this review process efforts are being made to internalize the review to each particular agency – bypassing public input. Currently in the hopper on this track is the rewriting of the review process for the Magnusson Stevens Act – the national fisheries management bill through internal review by the National Marie Fisheries Service.

You may have been among the 150,000 individuals and groups who wrote to the National Marine Fisheries Service with objections to revising the rule (by Aug. 12). I presume that they are mulling over their options… We will let you know when the decision comes out.

If you have reached this point in the letter, thanks for your perseverance.