From: Kristin Roberts, Reuters
Published July 4, 2006 12:00 AM

Judge Stops U.S. Navy Using Sonar off Hawaii

WASHINGTON — A federal judge Monday issued a temporary restraining order to stop the U.S. Navy using sonar during training near Hawaii because it might hurt or even kill whales and other marine mammals.

The U.S. District Court Central District of California said the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sought the injunction, offered "considerable convincing scientific evidence" showing military sonar can harm marine animals.

The Defense Department exempted the Navy on Friday from a whale protection law in response to the Defense Council's legal challenge. But the court said the Navy may not have fulfilled requirements under other environmental laws.

"Fortunately this country has more than one law against the needless infliction of harm to endangered whales and the environment," said Joel Reynolds, lawyer for the environmental group.

The restraining order stops the Navy from using a type of high-intensity sonar in the "Rim of the Pacific" (RIMPAC) 2006 anti-submarine warfare training exercise, pending a July 18 hearing where the Navy can argue against the injunction.

"The harm to the Defendants if the Navy is temporarily enjoined from proceeding with RIMPAC 2006, as scheduled, until such time as a preliminary injunction hearing can be held, is substantially outweighed by the potential harm to the human environment," the court order said.

RIMPAC 2006 involves eight countries -- Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, South Korea and the United States -- and more than 40 ships, six submarines, 160 aircraft and thousands of military personnel.

The Navy referred questions to the fleet leading the exercises. A spokesman there did not return a call for comment.

Last week, the Defense Department, for the first time, exempted the Navy for six months from the Marine Mammal Protection Act, nullifying challenges by the environmental group under that law. But challenges under the National Environmental Policy Act remained, and the court said the Navy may not have fulfilled obligations under that statute.

Source: Reuters

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