According to the National Resource Defense Council, the Trump administration is gearing up for a Congressional vote on a bill (H.R. 3133) that will remove protections for endangered marine mammals as a way to create loopholes for fossil fuel development. The implications of this bill are far-reaching and have the potential to negatively affect the marine environment, also creating a precedent of reducing aquatic protections afforded by legislation like the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S House of Representatives is considering legislation (H.R. 3133), which would make it easier for natural resource exploitation activities, techniques that are often used to search for natural oil and gas deposits in the ocean, and are proven to cause significant harm to marine mammals. This bill, which is included in a much larger energy bill (H.R. 4239 – SECURE American Energy Act) promotes extreme measures within minimum safeguards. These bills have already been approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources and Congress could be voting on this issues in the next few weeks.
“The groundbreaking conservation principles that we built into the MMPA are as important today as ever,” said Dr. Lee Talbot, a professor at George Mason University and one of the original authors of the MMPA under President Richard Nixon. “While some species are rebounding, others remain imperiled, and all marine mammals are at risk as the ocean becomes increasingly industrialized.”
Oceana, the NRDC, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare recently released polling results on the issues, indicating that:
-76% of Americans support protecting marine mammals from threats, including injury and death resulting from offshore oil and gas drilling.
-73% percent of Americans support the MMPA.
Ultimately, these bills are being pursued as a way to increase natural resource exploration and other industrial activities while reducing barriers that protect marine mammals and other species – particularly since the laws established in acts and articles such as the MMPA make it inconvenient to pursue dangerous industrial activities. As with incidents like the BP oil spill, we know that humans are also affected by these activities. The results of these activities could lead to general and widespread harm to sensitive species or even the extinction of endangered species such as the North Atlantic Right Whale and a number of dolphins (eg. finned surfers).
Since the inception of the Marine Mammal Protection Act 45 years ago, not a single marine mammal has gone extinct in the water of the United States. The changes being proposed in Congress have the potential to significantly reduce the protections afforded to marine mammals and effectively reduce this important conservation bill to nothing more and a mere shadow of what it currently is.