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US Navy Agrees to Geographical Limits on LFAS

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A federal district court has approved a settlement between the Navy and a NRDC-led coalition of environmental groups that will limit training missions using Low-Frequency Active Sonar to several specific regions in the Paciific Ocean. Negotiations were ordered by the court after NRDC challenged the legality of permits the Navy received which would have allowed nearly worldwide use of the powerful submarine-detection system. Ed note: in practice, the Navy’s two LFAS-equipped ships have remained in the western Pacific, where they can monitor Chinese and North Korean subs. The new agreement allows the Navy to use LFAS in more areas than were allowed under a similar agreement several years ago, including waters near the Philippines and Japan (with seasonal restrictions), as well as areas north and south of Hawaii, while explicitly banning its use in some biologically important areas, including marine sanctuaries near Hawaii. The agreement applies only to training and allows the Navy to use LFAS elsewhere when necessary to track submarines during actual operations. The Hawaiian operations will stay at least 50 miles from the islands, but will allow for more convenient training missions for Hawaii-based units. Since LFAS signals can remain loud enough to potentially trigger behavioral responses for rather long distances (the Navy estimates that LFAS signals would be 140dB at 300km), the new Hawaiian operations may provide some opportunities to see whether mid-range effects are seen. Both parties seem happy with the agreement, in keeping with the judge’s initial court order to negotiate, which required the parties to report to her on their progress on last Valentine’s Day. “We are satisfied with this settlement, and we appreciate the mediator’s efforts to help the parties come to an agreement,” said Pentagon spokeman Lt. Sean Robertson said, while Michael Jasny, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “We don’t have to choose between national security and protecting the environment. Today’s agreement maintains the Navy’s ability to test and train, while shielding whales and other vulnerable species from harmful underwater noise.”  Sources: Hawaii Star-Bulletin, 8/13/08 [READ ARTICLE] ENS, 8/12/08 [READ ARTICLE] San Francisco Chronicle, 8/13/08 [READ ARTICLE] 
[See AEI Special Report: Active Sonars]

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