November 13, 2008

The Coastal Commission and Environmental Law

By The Coastal Commission and Environmental Law

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court decided Winter v. NRDC, a case out of the Ninth Circuit concerning an injunction forbidding the Navy from using certain types of sonar as part of its training exercises off the coast of Southern California.  The Supreme Court held that the injunction should not have been issued, basically because the interests in national security outweigh the minor harm to aquatic species that may result from sonar use.  For more on the case, see the PLF on ESA post on Winter v. NRDC.

So, what's the Coastal Commission hook?  Well, as the Los Angeles Times reports, the Navy is planning to begin in February a new set of training exercises that are separate from the ones at issue in NRDC. What is interesting is that the Coastal Commission sees a role for itself in challenging these future exercises:

"We don't know what the Supreme Court decision means for the next go-round. We will have a new commander in chief. It's a new game," said Mark Delaplaine, an analyst with the California Coastal Commission. . . .

In February, the next set of training exercises begins under a new set of rules laid out in a massive environmental impact statement that has already been challenged by the California Coastal Commission.

Last month, the 12 commissioners nudged the Navy to again turn off sonar any time a whale or dolphin is spotted within 1.2 miles or a reasonable distance away, among other considerations. The Navy only wants to shut down its sonar when a marine mammal is seen within 220 yards.

"This Supreme Court decision doesn't necessarily give the Navy a green light to do what it wants," said Delaplaine, who managed federal matters for the commissioners. This could end up in court again, he said, or the Navy could decide to negotiate with the commission, which has certain powers to weigh in on federal activities under federal law.

What to read next