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Congress: Biggest Attack on Marine Mammals in Decades

By Michael Jasny

On Thursday, the House Natural Resources Committee passed a bill, called the "SECURE American Energy Act" (H.R. 4239), that can only be described as an oil industry wish-list. The bill's purpose is to mow down environmental concerns that stand in the way of the complete exploitation of fossil fuels in this country. For the oceans, this would mean an end to national monument designation and to some of those pesky safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater spill, among other things. And although it hasn't received much attention—yet—one late addition to the bill targets marine mammals in a very big way.


H.R. 4239 would eviscerate one of the core provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the law that for more than 45 years has been the bulwark of conservation for many of our most iconic ocean species. The Protection Act works by placing safeguards on human activities, like offshore oil exploration, that harm whales, dolphins and other marine mammals. Simply put, H.R. 4239 would gut a whole lot of those safeguards.

What would this mean for marine mammal protection? For starters:

  • H.R. 4239 would allow industry to harm huge numbers of marine mammals, by killing the safeguard limiting its impacts to "small numbers."
  • It would eliminate the requirement that activities have the "least practicable impact" on marine mammals, allowing industry to proceed without attempting to minimize harm.
  • It would prevent the wildlife agencies from requiring industry to monitor the long-term consequences of its actions.
  • It would establish an impossibly short timeline for the wildlife agencies to review industry activities for their marine mammal impacts, and automatically permit those activities if the agencies fail to meet it.
  • And, having turned much of our marine mammal law into a dead letter, it would exempt industry from having to comply with Endangered Species Act protections for marine mammals as well.

Destroying the Marine Mammal Protection Act would pave the way for seismic blasting—the first big step in oil and gas development—off the East Coast. As my colleagues and I have written, the industry's blasting is known to seriously compromise marine life from zooplankton to fish to the great baleen whales, and scientists have warned of "significant, long-lasting and widespread impacts" on entire species and populations if the oil industry gets the green light. Blasting the Atlantic is broadly opposed by more than 120 coastal communities from southern New Jersey to Florida, by more than 40,000 coastal businesses, by fishing associations, Chambers of Commerce, and more. But the oil industry doesn't care what the coast thinks.

Nor, of course, does it care about the love that people in this country have for whales and other marine mammals. In a recent poll, some 76 percent of Americans said they want to protect marine mammals from threats, including from offshore oil and gas exploration, and 73 percent said they support the Marine Mammal Protection Act. When the Committee released its bill, there was no mention of its bid to gut the Act in its press release, and that's not surprising. If I were them, I wouldn't want to let folks know what I was doing here either.

The "SECURE American Energy Act" (H.R. 4239) may come to a vote on the House floor this week. Please demand that your representatives strongly oppose this legislation and its attack on marine mammals. You can sign our petition here; and you can go here to find the office number of your Congressional representative and give them a call.

Save the MMPA!

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Earth Day Tips From the EcoWatch Team

At EcoWatch, every day is Earth Day. We don't just report news about the environment—we aim to make the world a better place through our own actions. From conserving water to cutting waste, here are some tips and tricks from our team on living mindfully and sustainably.

Lorraine Chow, reporter

Favorite Product: Dr. Bronner's Castile soap

It's Earth-friendly, lasts for months and can be used as soap, shampoo, all-purpose cleaner and even mouthwash (but I wouldn't recommend that).

Essential Tool: Blender

It has paid for itself in homemade smoothies, soups, sauces and dips. It also means I don't have to buy those individual foods in unnecessary plastic containers. Blending scraps helps your compost, too!

Earth Day Tip: Skip the straw

If you feel weird about saying "no straw" at restaurants, just tell the waiter that you're allergic to plastic.

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Favorite Product: Seventh Generation products

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Essential Tool: My portable thermos

I bring it with me when I order coffee or tea to go. That way I don't have to use paper cups, which are not actually recyclable, and some coffee shops even offer me a discount for bringing my own container!

Earth Day Tip: Get involved

In 2012, researcher Brad Werner ran a computer model and found our best shot at combating climate change was for people to form a mass social movement to demand it. So if you're worried about the environment, reach out to other people in your community and talk about what you can do together to make a difference!

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Whether you're traveling or running errands, a reusable water bottle that's light and compact will help keep you hydrated and keep you from buying bottled water.

Essential Tool: Backpack

It's great for carrying your groceries home from the store, and you won't have to use plastic bags. If you have a long shopping list, try a rolling suitcase.

Earth Day Tip: Don't waste water

Turn off the water while you brush your teeth. It can save eight gallons of water a day!

Chris McDermott, news editor

Favorite Product: Clothes from Patagonia

Patagonia makes a wide range of inspired products and their environmental policies are world class. They use only organic cotton in their clothes, and they even offer trade-ins, recycling and repairs at any time.

Essential Tool: RIVER mobile power station and solar generator

This powerful piece of mind is always ready regardless of storms and travel, for as long as one can tap the sun.

Earth Day Tip: Savor something vegan

There's no nutritional substitute for fresh, unprocessed food, but food science has revolutionized the taste and texture of vegan alternatives. For the pure delight of it, celebrate with Miyoko's Kitchen vegan cheese, Tofurky Italian sausage (30 grams of protein per serving!) and SoDelicious non-dairy dark chocolate truffle frozen dessert made with cashew milk.

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Favorite Product: Living Libations's Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Unlike sunscreen, this skin product works with the sun and helps absorb the nutrients from the sun's rays while giving skin protection at the same time.

"Rather than being afraid of the sun, harmonize with it," Living Libations says. Love it!

Essential Tool: My bike

Not only is this an emission-free way to get around town, but it also gives my body the activity it needs.

Earth Day Tip: Start small

Your one "small" action isn't small at all.

Jordan Simmons, social media coordinator

Favorite Product: Sustainable clothing by Amanda Sage Collection

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Essential Tool: My paintbrush and set of mineral paints

I found the all natural, biodegradable mineral paints at a local farmers' market in the Sacred Valley of Peru. I used to favor working with acrylic paints until I learned about their high carbon footprint and harmful substances.

Earth Day Tip: Honor Mother Earth

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