Washington, DC – Citing growing restrictions on its operations, weapons development and training, the U.S. Navy will soon seek Congressional exemption from compliance with several environmental laws, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“The Navy’s environmental philosophy is ‘damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,'” commented PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer, a former Navy officer. “The Navy’s senior command does not appreciate that defense of the nation does not demand despoliation of our natural resources.”

In recent briefings and position papers, Navy officials contend “the cumulative impact of compliance [with applicable environmental laws] can have severe to extreme consequences on operational readiness.” Present and future limitations on firing live explosives, night training, operations in marine sanctuaries and emerging weapon systems, such as its new “LFA” (Low Frequency Active) sonar present potential obstacles to the Navy’s mission.

The Navy decries actions to protect threatened and endangered species by federal wildlife protection agencies such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service because they take a “precautionary approach” toward protecting sea life, arguing that its operations should not be hampered by “lack of quality data” and “limited scientific understanding” of the vulnerability of marine mammals, sea turtles and other aquatic life.

Despite recommendations that Navy contractors “consider, wherever practical, using closed environments (e.g. quarries, catch-ponds) for the testing of ordnance and other live-fire testing” the Navy resists adopting any possible changes in its own operations to avoid environmental impacts. Instead the documents outline a series of statutory exemptions that the Navy intends to seek from the Endangered Species Act.

“We cannot simply stand by while the military or anyone else attempts to cut and shred the fabric of our nation’s environmental laws, especially one that was so painstakingly crafted by past generations,” said Brock Evans, a former marine and executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition.

“In the words of former Air Force Chief of Staff General Thomas D. White, the mission of the Department of Defense is more than aircraft, guns and missiles. Part of the defense job is protecting the lands, waters, timber and wildlife — the priceless natural resources that make this great nation of ours worth defending, ” added Evans.

One document lists “seven regulatory programs that impact DOD {Department of Defense} operations, training and testing in the marine environment in order of their severity” starting with the Marine Mammal Protection Act followed by the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (protecting fish habitat) and two Clinton Executive Orders on coral reefs and marine protected areas.

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