Attorney General Underwood – Part Of Coalition Of 9 AGs – Sues To Block Seismic Testing In The Atlantic Ocean   

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 20, 2018

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ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDERWOOD – PART OF COALITION OF 9 AGS – SUES TO BLOCK SEISMIC TESTING IN THE ATLANTIC OCEAN   

Federal Authorization Violates Environmental Laws and Will Harm Marine Mammals and Other Wildlife; Marks Another Step Toward Offshore Drilling 

NEW YORK – Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood – part of a coalition of nine Attorneys General – moved to intervene in a lawsuit to stop the proposed use of airguns to survey the Atlantic Ocean floor for oil and gas. These “seismic testing” surveys will expose whales, dolphins, and porpoises to repeated sound blasts louder than 160 decibels, threatening the health and continued existence of hundreds of thousands of highly sensitive marine mammals, including multiple endangered or threatened species. In addition, they are another step towards allowing offshore drilling—an action that could decimate New York’s $25 billion ocean economy, and the 350,000 jobs and $12 billion in wages it supports. The Attorney General’s office has threatened legal action if the Trump Administration doesn’t exclude areas offshore of New York from its offshore drilling plan. 

The pending lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and federal officials was filed on December 11 in South Carolina by a coalition of local and national non-governmental organizations. In moving to intervene today on the side of the organizations, the Attorneys General are seeking to file their own complaint on behalf of their respective states.   

“The Trump administration has repeatedly put special interests before our environment and our communities,” said Attorney General Underwood. “The science is clear: seismic testing would harm marine species, jeopardize our coastal ecosystems and move us another step closer to offshore drilling, which poses a critical threat to New Yorkers’ lives, jobs, and natural resources.”

In 2014 and 2015, five private companies applied to the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for permits to use air guns for seismic testing, in search of oil and gas, across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. These companies also applied to NMFS for “incidental harassment authorizations” (IHAs) because their activities were expected to harass members of numerous marine mammal species. NMFS now expects that they will result in more than 373,000 instances of marine mammal harassment, corresponding to well over 300,000 marine mammals—including endangered and threatened species (such as the endangered North Atlantic right whale) as well as other stocks designated as depleted, such as the blue whale and sperm whale.

In July 2017, a coalition of Attorneys General urged the NMFS to deny the IHA applications, arguing that granting the IHAs would be contrary to numerous scientific studies documenting the dangers acoustic devices pose to marine wildlife. In addition, the Attorneys General argued, the IHAs would hinder recovery of threatened or endangered marine mammal species along the Atlantic Coast.

Despite widespread criticism of the proposed testing from the scientific community and the public, NMFS granted the companies’ applications for IHAs in November 2018. In challenging the decision to grant the IHAs, the coalition of Attorneys General charges that NMFS’s approval violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Administrative Procedure Act.