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Case Opposes Amendment Undermining Marine Mammal Protection Act

Amendment would have permitted fast-track approval of offshore oil and gas development that could harm marine wildlife

Washington, DC, December 11, 2019


Floor Debate on H.R. 729, the Coastal and Great Lakes Communities Enhancement Act

December 10, 2019

The Acting CHAIR: The gentleman from Hawai‘i is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. CASE: Mr. Chair, this amendment is not a coastal resilience amendment. This amendment has nothing to do with the underlying bill; in fact, it was a miracle that it was ruled germane. This amendment instead is simply an unneeded handout to oil and gas companies that takes us in exactly the wrong direction, not only on climate change, but on the very survival of our oceans.

We all know, and I remind everybody, that this language is the exact language that in past Congresses was included in the other side's ocean drilling package that would have paved the way for faster permitting of seismic testing and ocean drilling. Why? Because our oceans marine mammals get in the way of that. Congress first enacted the Marine Mammal Protection Act over 40 years ago to protect all marine mammals in response to declines caused by human activities, and it has worked successfully for almost all of those years. The Marine Mammal Protection Act ensures that activities that may result in incidental harm or take of marine mammals are thoroughly reviewed, rather than permitted through the expedited and inadequate process proposed by this bill.

Activities such as seismic air gun testing used for oil and gas exploration, offshore drilling, sonar, and geophysical surveys can all affect marine mammals. And while I sometimes hear the other side falsely claim that these activities have not killed any marine mammals, the best available science for decades has demonstrated that, in fact, there are significant long-term negative impacts on several marine mammal species that do, in fact, cause their death.

This amendment would undermine critical protections under the Marine Mammal Protection Act by striking the conditions required for permitted activities. It would allow for unmitigated incidental harm, that is without the current safeguards that would allow for the, ``least practicable impact on such species or stocks,'' among other things. Is it too much to ask that we require the least practicable impact on such species or stock?

It would further limit mitigation for any incidental losses and requirements for monitoring. These legislative changes would allow industry to continue their activities with oversight of their impacts only if it was, “efficient and practical.” Efficient and practical? Let's just give them carte blanche to gut this bill, literally and figuratively.

Lastly, this amendment would waive requirements for take and consultation under the Endangered Species Act, another decades-long cornerstone of our protection of our natural species for any threatened or endangered marine mammals. The ESA has been critical to the recovery of several populations of marine mammals and is needed to protect other species from extinction.

Let's keep the focus where we can focus on a bipartisan solution to climate change as it affects our oceans, our coastlines and our lakes. Let's keep the focus on coastal resilience, on assisting communities, on fostering Federal-State organization partnerships, on living in the present and the future and not in the past on the effects of climate change. Let's keep that focus there, rather than use this bill, this amendment, to provide a desired handout to an industry that does not or has not demonstrated a true understanding of its impacts on our oceans, an industry that does need to continue to be regulated through strong positive time-tested legislation, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Mr. Chair, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. JOHNSON of Louisiana: Mr. Chair, I really appreciate the gentleman's zeal, but I want him to know the focus is on the right thing. We are focused here on solving problems.

This is not the first time this legislation has been misunderstood or even mischaracterized. As I stated previously, those who say that this amendment would weaken the effectiveness of certain elements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act resulting in industries involved with offshore areas having unfettered access to conduct activities that are detrimental to marine life is just absolutely not the case.

This amendment would roll back burdensome regulations on companies seeking to do business in offshore areas, but it does it in a very safe and responsible way. The current process is just too burdensome; it is too time-consuming.

Though the MMPA includes statutory deadlines for Federal agencies processing Incidental Harassment Authorization applications, industries operating in offshore areas cite delays that lasts hundreds of days, and that is just simply not acceptable. Previously, the Government Accountability Office reported on this exact issue. The GAO discovered that the National Marine Fishery Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to meet basic tasks, which included accurately recording application dates and timelines. In addition, the GAO found that some IHA applications sat within these agencies for years. In addition, ESA's list of species recovery efforts have also been hampered or delayed by the current IHA process.

During a previous Water, Power and Ocean Subcommittee hearing on marine mammal predation of ESA-listed salmon species in the Pacific Northwest, the then-regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife testified that, ``the conditions associated with the current requirements of Section 120 of the MMPA are challenging and expensive to implement, limited in scope and legal challenges have slowed the progress in reducing impacts to salmon.'' That is just one species, as an example, but it illustrates the need for this amendment to be adopted to H.R. 721.

Mr. Chair, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. CASE: Mr. Chair, I am prepared to close after the gentleman closes, and I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. JOHNSON of Louisiana: Mr. Chair, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from Utah (Mr. Bishop), our distinguished ranking member.

Mr. BISHOP of Utah: Mr. Chairman, may I inquire how much time is remaining?

The Acting CHAIR: The gentleman has 30 seconds.

Mr. BISHOP of Utah: Mr. Chair, unlike the other amendments that we have had, this is the only one that is added here that actually has had a hearing. It has had a markup, it has gone through regular order, and it is the only one that is not doing something that is duplicative. This is a problem that does exist and trying to make it to actually happen. Everything else we have talked about is stuff that is nice, but it is duplicative. It doesn't actually do anything. This is the only one that does something, and it does something in a positive way.

Mr. JOHNSON of Louisiana: Mr. Chair, I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. CASE: Mr. Chair, we understand that for some industries interested in the exploitation of our oceans that the Marine Mammal Protection Act is inconvenient. We understand that we ask for limitations on the activities of those industries, which would otherwise not demonstrate any discernible concern for our oceans. And we reject the basic premise that that regulation is not necessary for our oceans.

Our marine mammals deserve our protection, and we have protected them, and we have worked through the give-and-take of legitimate activities in the oceans where they can and should be balanced with impacts on our marine mammals. So, again, I respectfully submit that this particular proposal, which has been--as the ranking member points out--thoroughly vetted in prior Congresses, although not brought to the floor, can in fact yield a good, solid debate. But we simply reject the position taken.

Mr. Chair, I yield back the balance of my time.

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