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Whales, Navy clash at high court

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In March 2007, lawyers with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and five other environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Navy to be more caring of the environment when using MFA sonar during 11 planned training exercises off the southern California coast.

US District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper issued a preliminary injunction and ordered the Navy to halt its training exercises unless it adopted a court-ordered mitigation plan to reduce the potential harmful effects of the sonars. The plan called for shutting down sonars whenever marine mammals were detected within 1.25 miles.

The chief of naval operations objected, saying the court’s plan would “cripple” the Navy’s ability to train personnel to combat-ready status.

“Anti-submarine warfare is a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game that may span days and require large teams of personnel working in shifts around the clock,” according to the government’s brief. “Terminating or reducing sonar transmissions while attempting to locate and track a submarine, even for a relatively brief period, may allow the submarine to go undetected or escape.”

President Bush exercised his authority as commander in chief to exempt the Navy’s training from certain environmental requirements, declaring that the effort was “essential to national security.”

At the same time, the White House Council on Environmental Quality issued an emergency exemption for the Navy.

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