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Lawsuit to Challenge Salazar's Wholesale Disregard of Marine Mammal Protection Laws in Gulf of Mexico

00-plus Oil Projects Illegally Approved by Salazar Without Permits to Harm Endangered Whales

SAN FRANCISCO - The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for ignoring marine-mammal protection
laws when approving offshore drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
Since Salazar took office, the Department of the Interior has approved
three lease sales, more than 100 seismic surveys, and more than 300
drilling operations without permits required by the Marine Mammal
Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act that are designed to
protect endangered whales and other marine mammals from harmful
offshore oil activities.

“Under Salazar’s watch, the
Department of the Interior has treated the Gulf of Mexico as a
sacrifice area where laws are ignored and wildlife protection takes a
backseat to oil-company profits,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans
director for the Center.

Seismic exploration
surveys, which are used by oil companies to search for oil, generate
sounds loud enough to cause hearing loss in marine mammals, can disturb
essential behaviors such as feeding and breeding, and mask
communications between individual whales and dolphins. A single seismic
survey carried out by scientists in the Gulf in 2007 was estimated to
expose more than 3,000 whales and dolphins to dangerous sounds. More
than 100 such surveys by the industry have been approved by Salazar
since he took office in January 2009, all without any authorization to
harm or harass marine mammals.

Similarly, noise
from drilling operations can displace whales from important feeding
areas. More than 300 drilling operations have been permitted by
Salazar, all without authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection
Act or the Endangered Species Act. Offshore oil activities also can
harm marine mammals through pollution, vessel strikes, marine debris,
and oil spills.


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While certain adverse impacts on
whales and dolphins are unavoidable if offshore oil development is
allowed, mitigation measures that would be required if Interior
complied with the law, such as seasonal limitations on seismic surveys
during times of the year when endangered whales are present, could
greatly reduce impacts on the species.

Department of the Interior is well aware of its obligations under the
law, as well of the harm to endangered whales that can occur from oil
industry operations, yet it has simply decided it cannot be bothered,”
added Sakashita. “You or I have to follow the law, but Interior
Secretary Salazar seems to think that he and the oil companies he is
supposedly overseeing do not. That is unacceptable.”

Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act prohibit
private entities, such as oil companies, as well as federal agencies,
such as the Minerals Management Service — the branch of the Interior
Department responsible for managing offshore oil activities — from
killing, harming, or harassing marine mammals, unless they have
received authorizations and take measures to minimize the impacts of
their activities. The Endangered Species Act protects species such as
the sperm whale, which is listed as endangered, while the Marine Mammal
Protection Act applies to all marine mammals, such as the bottlenose
dolphin and the Florida manatee.


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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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