A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Federal court rejects White House exemptions to allow Navy sonar use

[JURIST] A federal district court on Monday rejected the Bush administration's attempt to exempt the US Navy from environmental laws [JURIST report] so that the Navy could continue using sonar in its anti-submarine warfare training off the coast of southern California. Last month, President Bush issued a memorandum [text] exempting the Navy from the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) [text] and the Council on Environmental Quality authorized "alternative arrangements" [PDF text] for the Navy's compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [EPA materials] due to "emergency circumstances." The executive action came despite a November 2007 ruling [PDF text] by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the Navy should limit its use of high-powered sonar [JURIST report].

In Monday's ruling [PDF text], Judge Florence Marie-Cooper of the US District Court for the Central District of California lifted a temporary partial stay [PDF text] issued earlier in the case. Marie-Cooper wrote:

In this Order, the Court concludes that its preliminary injunction is not affected by the Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) approval of emergency alternative arrangements because there is no emergency. The CEQ's action is beyond the scope of the regulation and is invalid. The Navy is not, therefore, exempted from compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and this Court's injunction.

This Court also expresses significant concerns about the constitutionality of the President's exemption of the Navy from the requirements of the Coastal Zone Management Act. However, because a finding on this issue is not necessary to the result reached, the Court adheres to the doctrine of constitutional avoidance and does not resolve that issue.
A spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) [advocacy website], which brought the original lawsuit to halt Navy sonar use due to harm caused to whales and other marine mammals, said [press release]:
The Court has affirmed that we do not live under an imperial presidency. The Navy doesn't need to harm whales to train effectively with sonar. By following the carefully crafted measures ordered by the court, the Navy can conduct its exercises without imperiling marine mammals.
AP has more.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.