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Congress and Trump to Weaken Marine Mammal Protection Act

| Mark J. Palmer
Topics: Bans, Legislation, Dolphins, Navy, Military, Whales

The National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) must pass Congress every year in order to ensure funding for the US military.  As such, it is considered a “must pass” bill in the halls of Congress. And many unscrupulous members of Congress take advantage of that fact.

For many years, the House Republicans have loaded up the NDAA with many non-funding amendments having nothing to do with the subject of the bill, a tactic that frankly breaks Congressional rules about legislation.  These amendments, called “riders”, cover all kinds of proposals that normally would not pass Congress if put to a vote by themselves.

The Senate has been more reluctant about adding riders, and during Conference Committee sessions, wherein members from the House and Senate work out any differences between bills passed separately by the Senate and the House of Representatives, these riders are often removed before a final vote.

The good news is that many bad riders on the NDAA dealing with the Endangered Species Act and other non-related issues were indeed removed from this year’s NDAA, according to the Conference Committee Report released on Monday, July 23rd.

But one amendment was not removed, and will likely be signed into law (the conference report on the NDAA goes to the Senate and House floor for votes, but no amendments are allowed to conferences – it is an up or down vote on the whole package).

The US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) prohibits the killing and harassment of any marine mammals.  There are exceptions, including submitting requests to the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for a permit allowing a person, say for scientific purposes or to catch or import a live dolphin for public display.

The US Navy conducts hundreds of actions annually that can harm marine mammals.  These actions include detonating explosions underwater, using low-frequency and mid-frequency sonars in training exercises, and other destructive impacts.  The Navy, under protest, must submit a request to NMFS every five years for such a permit.

The Pentagon has urged Congress to change the MMPA, pushing to essentially end the permit requirement for the Navy altogether.  A rider was added to the NDAA in the House extending the permit period from every five years to every ten years.

The final Conference Committee Report came up with a “compromise” of requiring the Navy to get the permit every seven years.

This is not the end of attacks on the MMPA by the current Administration and Congress.  Indeed, last week Congress rolled out a number of new bills to weaken the Endangered Species Act (which protects many endangered marine mammals) while the Trump Administration proposed new regulations gutting the ESA, such as requiring that economic impacts be considered before listing a species as endangered and weakening protection for species listed as threatened under the ESA.

Sadly, control of both Congress and the Presidency by extremists means more rollbacks of environmental laws that are currently inadequate to protect our planet’s life and climate.


Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson / Wikimedia Creative Commons.