Following consultation with the Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense announced Jan. 23, authorization of a two-year National Defense Exemption from requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) for naval activity involving mid-frequency active sonar use, and a new sensor that uses small explosive charges, during major training exercises and on established ranges and operating areas.
This period provides the Navy time necessary to continue coordination with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the public as the Navy continues its analysis of activities on major range complexes and obtains any necessary authorizations from NOAA.
The Navy's position is that continued training with active sonar is absolutely essential in protecting the lives of our Sailors and defending the nation. Increasingly quiet diesel-electric submarines continue to proliferate throughout the world.
"The Navy has worked closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on our long-term compliance strategy, and the National Defense Exemption is an agreed upon part of the strategy. It allows both agencies to apply resources to the long-term plan," said Navy Rear Adm. James Symonds, director of environmental readiness. "We will continue to employ stringent mitigation measures, developed with NOAA's concurrence, to protect marine mammals during all sonar activities."
In 2002, the Navy began implementation of a comprehensive, fully funded strategy to ensure the Navy complies with applicable federal laws. In coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service, this limited exemption enables the Navy to continue execution of that plan.
In 2006, in close coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service, an execution plan was finalized that will result in completion of full environmental documentation of all major Navy training and exercise areas. The process of completing this documentation, including the required analysis and public comment periods, is a multi-year effort. This limited exemption provides a bridge as this plan is executed.
The provisions of the exemption apply only during the period required to complete each area's environmental documentation. As each is completed, the exemption will no longer apply in that area.
The Navy's compliance plan will ultimately cover all major U.S. Navy ranges and operating areas with environmental impact statements under the National Environmental Policy Act, and any necessary letters of authorization under the MMPA, and consultation under the Endangered Species Act as required. Navy policy mandates that all its ranges and operating areas be covered by overarching compliance actions by the end of fiscal year 2009.
Several of the operating area projects have Notices of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement already published in the Federal Register, the beginning step in the comprehensive procedure which will involve public participation.
Authority for the exemption was included by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2004.