Washington, DC – A coalition of environmental groups from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts today filed a petition charging federal agencies with ignoring protections for coral reefs. The petition, organized by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), demands that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stop approving underwater fiber optic cables across sensitive coral reefs without conducting required environmental reviews.

The telecommunications revolution has spawned a proliferation of undersea fiber optic cables for high-speed transmission of massive amounts of digital data, with nearly 50 new cable permits pending for the Florida coast alone. The petition cites environmental damage caused by cables dropped into sensitive coral beds, dredging and drilling blow-outs (called “frak outs”) as well as impacts on marine sanctuaries from multiple cable crossings.

The petition is filed before the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, an inter-agency group created by President Clinton to “secure implementation of measures necessary to reduce and mitigate coral reef ecosystem degradation” (Executive Order 13089). The petition focuses on the Army Corps, which grants blanket exemptions for undersea fiber optic cables as if they were land-based “utility lines.”

“The Army Corps is again asleep at the switch, content to use last century’s tools to address this century’s challenges,” stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer who drafted the petition. “As we approach ‘Reef Awareness Week,’ the very federal agencies charged with coral reef protection continue to green light all new subsea cable applications without environmental evaluation, seemingly unaware of the potential harm.”

The coalition of groups, ranging from the Hawaiian Islands to the Virgin Islands, includes Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Center for Marine Conservation, Environmental Defense, Ocean Watch Foundation, Pacific Whale Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, St. Croix Aquarium and Marine Education Center, Reef Ball Foundation, Ahupua’a Action Alliance, Center for Ecosystem Survival at San Francisco State University, and Professor Robin Craig of the Western New England College of Law.

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