Tuesday, February 5, 2008

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Navy must follow environmental laws placing strict limits on sonar training that environmentalists argue harms whales, despite President Bush”s decision to exempt it, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

The Navy is not “exempted from compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act” and a court injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper wrote in a 36-page decision.

“We disagree with the judge”s decision,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. “We believe the orders are legal and appropriate.”

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore said the military was studying the decision by Judge Cooper, a 1999 appointee of President Clinton.

The president signed a waiver Jan. 15 exempting the Navy and its antisubmarine warfare exercises from a preliminary injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California. The Navy”s attorneys argued in court last week that Mr. Bush was within his legal rights.

Environmentalists have fought the use of sonar in court, saying it harms whales and other marine mammals.

“It”s an excellent decision,” said Joel Reynolds, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is spearheading the legal fight. “It reinstates the proper balance between national security and environmental protection.”

The Navy last week wrapped up a training exercise by the carrier strike group of the USS Abraham Lincoln in which sonar was used. There are currently no task force training exercises off the coast of California using sonar.

When he signed the exemption, Mr. Bush said complying with the law would “undermine the Navy”s ability to conduct realistic training exercises that are necessary to ensure the combat effectiveness of carrier and expeditionary strike groups.”

Said Mr. Reynolds: “I”ve always felt that the president”s actions were illegal in this case, and the judge has affirmed that point of view with the decision today.”

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