The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jeff Ruch (202) 265-7337

Navy Seeks To Continue Illegal Marine Detonations

Shifting Much of Underwater Explosives Operations from Puget Sound to San Diego


The U.S. Navy underwater demolition program has operated without
legally required environmental safeguards for more than 25 years and
the Navy wants to keep it that way, according to a federal court filing
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and
Wild Fish Conservancy. The Navy has announced that it will end most of
its demolition exercises in Washington's Puget Sound which are the
subject of the PEER/ Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit and relocate them to
Imperial Beach in San Diego County, California.

In July 2008, PEER and Wild Fish Conservancy filed a federal lawsuit
charging the Navy with violating environmental statutes by setting off
scores of underwater explosive charges each year in some of the most
sensitive waters of Puget Sound without any attempt to avoid or
minimize damage. In November, the Navy agreed to dramatically cut back
the number, size and locations for its Puget Sound detonations.

Now, after months of settlement discussions, the Navy seeks to
dismiss the PEER/Wild Fish Conservancy lawsuit because it claims that
it is closing down most of its Puget Sound demolition operations. One
problem with the Navy's relocation plan, however, is that the Navy has
not conducted the required environmental reviews and consultations
needed to begin explosive exercises in Imperial Beach.

"The Navy cannot avoid environmental compliance by simply relocating
its violations," stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein who filed
the motion for summary judgment in its lawsuit with Brian Knutsen of
the Seattle law firm Smith & Lowney. "From its pattern of conduct,
we can only conclude that the Navy never intended to obey the law."

In their filing before the U.S. District Court in Tacoma, PEER and Wild Fish Conservancy point to -

  • An extensive Puget Sound explosives program dating back to
    the early 1980's averaging 60 exercises a year. Each detonation
    exercise kills thousands of fish;
  • The Navy has resisted any alternatives or mitigation measures to reduce harm to wildlife; and
  • Despite
    pledging since 2002 to bring itself into compliance, the Navy has
    evaded requirements by employing an array of delaying and, in some
    cases, misleading tactics.

The suit cites the Navy's violations of the Endangered Species Act
and the National Environmental Policy Act. After months of ultimately
fruitless settlement discussions, the Navy now contends that by moving
its operations to Imperial Beach the suit is moot. A ruling is expected
this summer.

"Significantly, the Navy has not told the people of Imperial Beach
how many blasts to expect and where to expect them," Dinerstein added,
noting that the Navy is not legally barred from resuming underwater
demolition exercises in Puget Sound if the PEER/Wild Fish Conservancy
suit is dismissed.


Read the summary judgment motion

See the recent Navy announcement shifting explosive operations to Imperial Beach

Look at the new conditions imposed in Puget Sound

Revisit the PEER/ Wild Fish Conservancy Puget Sound lawsuit

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.