LOS ANGELES -- The nation's high court ruled today that the U.S. Navy can continue use of long-range sonar in exercises off the Southern California coast, dismissing claims that the practice was harmful to whales and rejecting a Los Angeles judge's decision that the Navy was not exempt from environmental laws.
The Navy uses high-power sonar off the coast to train sailors in identifying hostile submarines beneath the Pacific, but environmentalists have for years claimed that the results spell disaster for marine life in the region and elsewhere.
"Even if the plaintiffs have shown irreparable injury from the Navy's training exercises, any such injury is outweighed by the public interest in effective, realistic training of sailors," the U.S. Supreme Court's written opinion states.
Today's ruling upheld the case brought by the government, which argued that President Bush had the constitutional power to exempt the Navy from environmental laws curbing the use of long-range sonar in the Pacific Ocean.
In February, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled that Bush had overstepped his authority by signing a waiver that allowed the Navy to keep using sonar even with whales nearby. The government argued the Navy's training exercises were "essential to national security."
Environmentalists, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, believe the high-intensity sound waves produced by sonar hurt dolphins, whales and other marine mammals, causing them to beach themselves in some cases.
Some Navy sonar systems generate underwater sound waves as loud as 235 decibels, almost twice the noise levels of the rock band AC/DC in concert, according to the NRDC.
The high court's ruling rejects a preliminary injunction issued by Cooper on Jan. 3 that ordered the Navy to stop using sonar when marine mammals are within 2,200 yards, and to monitor its test area for one hour before tests begin to ensure no marine wildlife is in the area.