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Dolphins © Brandon Cole

in this issue

• Shell Forced to Retreat in Arctic • EPA Takes Step Toward Banning Pebble Mine • NRDC Sues Navy to Protect Whales • Buy the Book, Save a Whale!


in the news Citizens Versus Fracking In a major victory for local communities over fracking, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has found unconsti­ tutional a law that would have stripped towns of their local zoning control over oil and gas drilling. Act 13 would have forced munici­palities to allow fracking operations, whether they wanted them or not, including in residential areas and near schools and hospitals — and at any time of day or night. The court ruling is good news for communities in other states who are standing up to the oil and gas industry against dangerous fracking.

EPA Takes First Step Toward Banning the Pebble Mine


esponding to overwhelming public demand for the protection of Alaska’s Bristol Bay from the proposed Pebble Mine, the Environmental Protection Agency has initiated a rarely used process under the Clean Water Act that could lead to a ban on the mega-mine. The announcement of this move came just weeks after the agency completed a rigorous three-year assessment, which concluded that the Pebble Mine poses “catastrophic” risks to Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fishery, abundant wildlife populations and Native communities. It also followed an all-out Beltway media blitz — launched by NRDC and our partners and featuring a Robert Redford TV ad — that called on President Obama to take action and stop the Pebble Mine once and for all.

Puffin’ Up Protections

New Day for Solar Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York has announced K-Solar, a first-of-its-kind initiative to promote the installation of solar panels throughout New York’s 5,000 schools. NRDC is proud to be a major supporter of the program, which aims to “solarize” not just schools but entire neighborhoods. As envisioned, when a school goes solar, the program will help the surrounding community go solar too, and vice versa — an innovative new way of linking local residents to the clean energy revolution. The project dovetails with our national Solar Schools program, which is helping communities rally around their schools and help them go solar.


One of many ads in our online campaign.

A Clean Water Act provision allows the agency to “prohibit, restrict, deny, or withdraw” an area at risk of “unacceptable adverse effects” on water, fisheries, wildlife or recreation resources. The EPA has used this process only 13 times in the past four decades. After taking public comment, the agency will issue a final determi­nation — hopefully one that permanently bans the mine. “The mining lobby will be contesting this process every step of the way,” says Joel Reynolds, NRDC’s western director. “They are in full attack mode against EPA. We’ll be mobilizing the public and calling on the Obama Administration to finish what it started and slam the door shut on this reckless venture.” At some 2,000 feet deep and poised precariously at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, the Pebble Mine would be one of the largest open-pit copper and gold mines in the world, generating 10 billion tons of contaminated mining waste. A stunning 98 percent of local residents who commented during the EPA assessment asked the agency to protect Bristol Bay from large-scale mining.

Tufted puffin © Ian McAllister/

In order to save a rapidly dwindling population of tufted puffins in the Lower 48, NRDC has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect these vulnerable birds as an endangered species. Puffin populations in California, Oregon and Washington have plummeted 90 percent in the past 30 years and now total no more than 4,000 breeding individuals. The tufted puffin, one of three puffin species, has suffered from changing availability of food due to climate change, competition with fishing fleets, oil pollution and a loss of habitat. About the size of a football and sporting a bright red-orange bill and yellow tufts above the eyes during breeding season, this particular puffin is one of the most beloved species of the American West Coast.

n a stunning victory for one of America’s last

and embarrassing blunders during the 2012 drilling

pristine ocean habitats and half the nation’s

season, including emergency response equipment

threatened polar bears, a federal appeals court

that was “crushed like a beer can” during routine

has effectively blocked the oil and gas industry from

testing and the grounding of a 260-foot drill rig,

drilling off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea.

sent the company into retreat in 2013. Now, Shell

The ruling marks a major win in an ongoing

has abandoned its exploratory drilling plans for

campaign by NRDC and our allies to keep Big

this year as well. “This time-out gives the Obama

Oil’s rigs — and the

Administration a

risk of a catastrophic

golden opportunity

spill — out of the Polar

to finally break with

Bear Seas. Just two

the failed policy of

weeks after the court

the Bush years,” says

decision, Shell reversed

Lawrence. “We’re

course and announced

calling on President

that it would not

Obama and Interior

attempt to drill in the

Secretary Jewell to

Arctic this summer.

chart a new, more

The court found that

responsible course

in approving the sale

Walrus and other Arctic wildlife have been spared the threat of an oil spill — for now.

of some 30 million

by putting the Arctic completely off-limits

acres of drilling leases in the Chukchi Sea in 2008,

to the oil giants.” That long-overdue move would

the Bush Administration wildly underestimated

not only preserve our spectacular natural heritage

the potential for oil spills and other hazards. The

but also spare the earth’s embattled climate more

Interior Department now will have to go back to the

disruption by keeping the Arctic’s vast store of fossil

drawing board and undertake a thorough environmental

fuels safely in the ground.

review of the dangers posed by drilling in the Arctic’s treacherous waters. “The court basically said the government has no idea what the real conse­quences of drilling will be,” says Niel Lawrence, an NRDC senior attorney. “And until it knows those impacts, it has no business letting Shell continue to operate in the Arctic Ocean.”

This milestone courtroom victory would not have been possible without the generous support of hundreds of thousands of NRDC Members who have helped fund a tough battle against two admini­ strations and Big Oil that has raged in and out of the courtroom for five years. As a direct result, the polar bears, whales, dolphins and countless other

Shell Oil has been extremely aggressive in its attempts

animals that depend on the Arctic Ocean for survival

to drill in the Polar Bear Seas — and it has met with

will be spared the threat of a devastating oil spill

one ominous failure after another. A litany of serious

— at least for now.

Walrus © Steven Kazlowski/


Shell Forced to Retreat in Arctic


Campaign Update

NRDC Sues to Protect Whales from Navy’s Deadly War Game

Federal Court Action Aims to Rein In Far-Reaching Military Threat to Ocean Wildlife


Dolphins © Brandon Cole; beaked whales © Vidal Martin; blue whale © Phillip Colla/; sonar graphic courtesy of OceanCare

he estimates are shocking: an average of four individuals killed per week, with dozens more maimed or permanently disabled. In total, there could be nearly a thousand dead, some 13,000 critically injured and millions more temporarily displaced or otherwise harmed. These grim numbers sound like casualty figures from a brutally devastating war zone — but they’re not. They are the peace­time toll the Navy could exact on our oceans’ whales and other marine mammals during the next five years of routine testing and training with high-intensity sonar and explosives.


“It’s unconscionable, the sheer scale of the assault,” says Michael Jasny, director of NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project. “The Navy can do far better, and the law requires it to do so — but unfortunately the Obama

Even as scientific evidence mounts linking the Navy’s war games to incidents of whale mortality and serious injury, the Navy has remained stubbornly opposed to putting in place the sort of commonsense protections that experts say are vital to keeping whales out of harm’s way. First and foremost, the Navy should make sure vital whale habitat and migratory routes are off-limits to bombing exercises and high-intensity sonar. Such safe­guards would not compromise military readiness at all, but so far the Obama Administration has been all too willing to let the Navy conduct business as usual. The Fisheries Service, the agency charged with protecting marine mammals, has virtually rubberstamped the Navy’s training plans with almost no questions asked. “The Navy itself predicts hundreds of whale deaths, thousands of injuries and wide­ spread disruption of feeding and calving,” says Jasny, “and the Fisheries Service deems those impacts ‘negligible.’ It’s absurd. And it’s almost certainly illegal. They’ve left us no choice but to haul them into court.” Of all the extraordinary adap­ tations that whales and other marine mammals have evolved in order to thrive in the murky ocean depths, perhaps the most vital is an acute sense of hearing. They rely on it to migrate, to forage and hunt, to raise their young and to commu­ nicate with one another. Yet over the course of the next five years, the Navy plans to blast waters in both the Atlantic

Dolphins off the coast of California. Inset: Pierce Brosnan, a long-time ocean advocate, has partnered with NRDC to raise awareness about the Navy’s assault on marine mammals.

Administration has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to safeguarding ocean wildlife from the Navy’s assault. That’s why we’ve filed suit in federal court against both the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has allowed this carnage.”

Military Sonar Warships use sonar equipment to emit sound waves, whi ocean. Submarines reflect these sound waves revealing t

and the Pacific with deafening midfrequency sonar at up to 236 decibels for a total of nearly 300,000 hours, the equivalent of 34 years’ worth of extreme, continuous noise. Such intense sound has been shown to cause internal organs in mammals to hemorrhage. In addition, the Navy plans a barrage of torpedo tests, bombing exercises and under­ water explosions — some 1.1 million of these events overall, or an average of one earsplitting detonation every two minutes for the next five years. A growing body of scientific evidence — including a range of studies sponsored by the Navy itself — under­scores the dangerous and even lethal impact of the Navy’s training and testing on whales. For example, four new Navyfunded studies focusing solely on beaked whales have linked the use of high-intensity sonar to prolonged disruptions in feeding and reproductive stress, which biologists suspect may explain the alarming decline in almost all beaked whale populations in the


the means to ensure our national security “The Navyandhasprotect marine mammals at the same time. ”

Endangered blue whale.

California Current over the past two decades. Autopsies on beached beaked whales, an excep­ ich permeate the tionally deep-diving species, their location. have found evidence of decom­pression sickness, a fatal condition that scientists believe may occur when the whales become panicked by extreme noise and ascend too quickly. Endangered blue whales are also among the numerous marine mammal species threatened by the Navy’s activities. At 100 feet long and almost 200 tons, these gentle giants are believed to be the largest animals ever to have existed on earth. Yet even as these magnificent creatures cling to survival, recent evidence suggests that blue whales will stop feeding in order to flee military noise. A number of scientists — including the Navy’s own — have concluded that such exposure “may pose significant risks to the recovery rates of endan­gered blue whale populations.” “It’s time to shed light on the carnage about to unfold beneath our darkened seas,” says actor and ocean advocate Pierce Brosnan, who is working with NRDC to raise public awareness

about the Navy’s assault on whales. “The Navy’s perpetual excuses of ‘We’re doing enough’ and ‘We couldn’t possibly do more’ just won’t fly anymore. The Navy has the means to ensure our national security and protect marine mammals at the same time.” A longtime champion of our oceans, Brosnan has partnered with NRDC on numerous campaigns to protect marine wildlife. Recently he appeared in an online video that has already

Fourteen rare beaked whales died after a naval sonar exercise in the Canary Islands.

helped generate tens of thousands of messages to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, calling on him to direct the Navy to abandon its fight against NRDC’s latest lawsuit and instead adopt commonsense protections for whales. “There’s just no military justification for the Navy’s unrestrained assault on whales,” says Brosnan. “But

unless we band together and hold the Navy accountable, these intelligent and sentient animals will continue to suffer and die for no good reason.” NRDC’s latest suit targets Navy testing and training operations off the coasts of Southern California and Hawaii, which include some of the most biologically rich and diverse waters in the United States, home to at least 39 species of marine mammals. Although the Navy appears to have dug in its heels for this fight — for the moment, at least — this is by no means the first time we’ve taken on the Navy in court. We won sweeping, lifesaving restrictions on the Navy’s use of deadly low-frequency active sonar several years ago. And more recently, a federal judge sided with NRDC and ordered the Fisheries Service to reassess Navy operations that threaten whales in the Pacific Northwest. The enormous scope of the Navy’s plans has required NRDC to wage our campaign on several fronts, yet one unequiv­ocal principle, articulated by Brosnan, guides each battle: “There’s just no excuse for more whales to suffer and die during routine training.” Take action at: 5

Talking With: Joel Reynolds Joel Reynolds is the western director of NRDC. He launched NRDC’s Marine Mammal Protection Project in the 1990s with the first of many federal cases against the U.S. Navy on behalf of whales. He has twice been named California Lawyer of the Year in the environmental category, and he is featured prominently in War of the Whales (Simon & Schuster, July 2014), a new book about the decades-long campaign to rein in Navy sonar. It has been 20 years since you filed — and ultimately won — NRDC’s first case against the Navy to protect marine mammals from dangerous levels of noise. What has NRDC’s impact been in terms of changing the Navy’s approach? Transformational. When we filed that first case, the Navy had a history of doing very little environmental analysis — almost none. We sued them over an underwater explosives program off California, in some of the richest biological waters of the coastal United States, and they hadn’t bothered to do an environmental impact statement. They hadn’t considered effects or alternatives; they hadn’t considered mitigation. Our success in that first lawsuit was a major wake-up call for the Navy, as the Navy’s own general counsel told me. He called it one of the most important lawsuits filed against the Navy during his tenure. Since then, we’ve not only been able to change the way the Navy does environmental reviews, permitting and planning, but have forced them to live with safeguards in testing and training that they’d never previously considered. What was it like when you first found yourself sitting across a table from a full retinue of Navy top brass? I remember the first time I went to the Pentagon. The Navy’s general counsel had convened a briefing for me about the Navy’s testing of its low-frequency active sonar off the Pacific coast, and I brought along a leading scientist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. So there we were, the two of us, and across the table was a battalion of uniformed Naval officers, scientists, department political officials — 30 or so people. And you know, the Pentagon itself is an impressive place in its scale and purpose and all the things that go on there. So it was an intimidating scene. But in any 6

situation like that, once you get into the discussion at hand, it’s all about substance, and that’s what we do at NRDC: substance. NRDC has racked up some huge victories on this issue; on the other hand, when you look at the Navy’s most recent plans, the level of harm to whales and other marine mammals is still atrocious. How satisfied are you with the progress made? You have to take into account where we started. Ocean noise pollution was essentially unknown as an environmental issue. There was a very dedicated but relatively small group of acousticians and ocean­ ographers studying it, but by and large, it was new. There’s nothing in the Marine Mammal Protection Act, for example, that talks about ocean noise. When we began this work in the mid-1990s, there was a real question whether a federal judge would even consider high-intensity sound enough of a threat that it needed to be assessed and mitigated under federal law, much less whether that judge would rule against the Navy, one of the most powerful depart­ ments in the government and one traditionally given enormous deference. Our first win put ocean noise pollution on the map, so to speak; it set a precedent. In every subsequent case, the federal courts have recognized the significance of sound as a form of pollution and as a source of serious potential harm. It’s a precedent that set the stage for a string of NRDC victories. Yes. In 2002, we won a major court ruling that blocked the Navy’s deployment of a new high-intensity sonar system across 75 percent of the world’s oceans, citing potential harm to whales and other marine mammals. Four years later, we won a restraining order against the Navy’s use of sonar during war

games in Hawaii because of the threat to whales. Again, in 2007 and 2008, courts upheld similar challenges, and just last fall, a federal judge ordered the government back to the drawing board over Navy sonar and other training that threatens whales in the Pacific Northwest.

Why? It seems like common sense.

So you have to keep hauling the Navy back to court over and over again?

What was your reaction to Joshua Horwitz’s forth­ coming book on the subject, War of the Whales? NRDC features prominently in it.

There’s an old saying that the environment is never saved, it’s always being saved, and our long-running fight with the Navy is a perfect example. You make progress, and you have to keep coming back in order to maintain that progress. For example, today’s science is telling us that harm is occurring at lower levels of noise than previously thought, and, to its credit, the Navy is reflecting that science in its higher estimates of harm. But at the same time, the Navy is expanding its training activities off of Southern California and Hawaii to an extent that is certain to cause more harm. One of the goals of our litigation is to force them to set aside the most critically important habitat for whales and other marine mammals. That single safeguard can make a big difference, but it’s one that the Navy has resisted for years.

Honestly, the level of their resistance doesn’t make sense. It’s a big ocean out there — plenty of room for them to do what they need to do to keep our country safe without training in a marine sanctuary or whale nursery.

Yes, we’re at the center of the book. But even I, having lived through most of the events it narrates, was surprised at what a page-turner it is. It’s such a compelling story on so many levels, from the origins of the Navy’s classified marine mammal training and sonar development to the role of the courts in responding to proof that high-intensity military sonar kills whales and other marine life. There are a lot of good things to say about the book, but what I find most remarkable is the extraordinary access the author got to people very high up in the Navy hierarchy and to the information that only they could provide. To read what the Navy admirals were thinking inside the Pentagon before, during and after whatever moves NRDC was making — that is remarkable.

Preorder the Book, Save a Whale!


on’t miss this great opportunity to read the riveting story of NRDC’s fight to protect whales, while supporting our court battle to save them from Navy sonar. Thanks to a special grant secured by the author, every time an NRDC Member preorders a copy of War of the Whales online, $5 will be donated to our Marine Mammal Protection Project. Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Geraldine Brooks calls War of the Whales “a pageturning plunge into deep seas and deep secrets, a tautly constructed narrative full of science, suspense and unexpected reversals. This is an aweinspiring book, and an enraging one. You won’t be able to put it down.”

Preorder your copy today and help NRDC save whales at:

All of the environmental projects and victories described in Nature’s Voice are made possible through the generous support of Members like you. If you like what you read, you are invited to make a special contribution at

“A gripping, brilliantly told tale of the secret and deadly struggle between American national security and the kings of the oceans.” — BOB WOODWARD

Editor: Stephen Mills Writers: Jason Best, Emmet Wolfe Managing Editor: Liz Linke Designer: Dalton Design

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Director of Membership: Linda Lopez


As Monarch Numbers Plummet, NRDC Takes Swift Action


t is one of the most astounding and extraordinary migrations on the planet. Each year, as they have for countless generations, North American monarch butterflies undertake an epic journey, flittering upwards of 3,000 miles across the United States and Canada to relatively few wintering grounds in California and Mexico. Scientists have yet to unlock the mystery of this remarkable phenomenon — even as the migration itself is poised on the brink of collapse.

Less than a decade ago, a staggering 1 billion monarchs flocked to Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains, forming a living tapestry of fiery orange and black blanketed across some 45 acres of fir trees. But by this year the population had plummeted to a record low of just 33.5 million, covering a mere 1.6 acres of forest. “The long-term average for over­ wintering monarchs in Mexico has been around 350 million,” says NRDC senior scientist Sylvia Fallon. “We’re now at less than a tenth of that. Clearly this is a crisis.” Experts agree that one of the prime factors contributing to monarch decline is habitat loss — specifically, the near-extermination of milkweed across enormous swaths of the United States. The story of milkweed and the monarch is one of elegant biological symbiosis: Milkweed is the only plant on which monarchs lay their eggs. Over the past 15 years, as industrial agriculture ramped up its use of genetically modified crops resistant to the weed killer glyphosate (marketed as Roundup by biotech-ag

SWiTCHBOARD Time to Shut Down the SecondBiggest Ivory Market: America

Elephants © Steve Garvie; monarch butterfly © Jeannette Rudloff

Posted by: Elly Pepper, NRDC Wildlife Advocate


The elephant poaching crisis reached its peak last year with more than 30,000 of these amazing animals slaughtered for their tusks. Seizure data collected for 2014 so far shows that this year could be even worse. But the United States is now committed to ending this tragedy, as shown recently by President Obama when he released a first draft of a National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. Perhaps the most exciting part of this strategy are new restrictions on the commercial trade of elephant ivory, which will prohibit the import, export or resale within the United States of elephant ivory in most circumstances. The ban includes a prohibition on the importation of antique ivory into the

giant Monsanto), it escalated its use of the herbicide as well, which kills off milkweed. Use of glyphosate has increased tenfold, reaching some 182 million pounds annually. It is now the most widely used weed killer in the country. “This is the ninth consecutive year that the overwintering population of monarch butterflies in Mexico has fallen below its average numbers, and this year marked an all-time low,” says Fallon. “We’ve got to act now if we’re going to preserve this amazing natural phenomenon for future generations.” NRDC has filed an urgent petition with the Environ­ mental Protection Agency, calling on it to adopt tough new restrictions on glyphosate and other herbicides and thereby preserve the milkweed on which monarchs depend. Critical safeguards would limit the use of glyphosate and other weed killers along highways, where milkweed often grows, and would require farmers to establish herbicide-free safety zones in or around their fields. NRDC is also working to establish a nationwide “safe passage” for monarchs by identifying states whose transportation departments use herbicides along highway medians and petitioning them to stop using the weed killers and plant milkweed instead.

Want to take immediate action to help save the monarch’s migration? Go to to make your voice heard. And plant milkweed for monarchs at

The following entry first appeared online at:

United States, which will close a major loophole in our law that has enabled the American ivory market to flourish. Indeed, because the law currently has exceptions for antique ivory, and it’s extremely difficult to tell how old ivory is, wildlife traffickers have imported much ivory into the United States by claiming it’s old when, in fact, it’s from recently killed elephants. The new restrictions will significantly curb our nation’s ivory market, which is the world’s second-largest (behind China), with epicenters in New York, Hawaii and California. It will also make the United States look more legitimate when pressuring other countries to do more — it’s difficult to criticize if we aren’t doing a whole lot ourselves! We still have a long way to go in the fight to protect elephants, and NRDC will be mobilizing our Members to ensure that the Obama Admini­stration implements the strongest possible ban on the ivory trade. Meanwhile, more

Thirty thousand elephants were killed last year.

can be done to regulate the interstate sale of ivory and the export of antique ivory products, which can create opportunities for black market sales. Congress must act to get rid of the U.S. legal trade entirely. And states must strengthen their ivory laws, which is why we’re supporting legislative efforts in states including New York and Hawaii. However, the federal action is a huge step forward for elephants — and for people. As President Obama said, we have the power to “ensure that our children have the chance to grow up in a world with and experience for themselves the wildlife we know and love.”

Photo: Green Mountain near Aspen, CO. © Tim Fitzharris

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Nature's Voice Spring 2014