Washington, DC — Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling allowing the U.S. Navy to deploy sonar arrays linked to the deaths of whale and other marine mammals reflects the legal work of the very agency that is supposed to protect those creatures, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The presidential order removing key legal protections for whales from naval operations was written by the head of the Office of Protected Species within the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In fact, NOAA is presenting its highest honor, a gold medal, to James Lecky, Director of NOAA’s Office of Protected Species, and agency lawyers “for exceptional legal and programmatic support in securing the first-ever Presidential exemption under the Coastal Zone Management Act” in a ceremony on November 18, 2008. The non-monetary award is given for accomplishments which advance NOAA’s strategic goals or missions.
“Under the Bush administration, the Pentagon has sought and often won environmental immunity,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “We will urge the Obama administration to review all these national security exemptions and revoke those, such as this sonar action, that are utterly unjustified.”
In the view of many employees, however, Lecky’s role in this case is consistent with his checkered record:
- In 2002, Lecky was the official whose actions led to a massive fish kill on the Klamath River. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit later ruled that Lecky’s handiwork “doesn't even pretend to protect” endangered salmon and “ignores the life cycle of the species”;
- In 2005, a Commerce Office of Inspector General report found that Lecky improperly altered a key NOAA biological opinion on the effects of diverting Sacramento River water from the San Francisco Bay Delta to thirsty Southern California to find no jeopardy to threatened and endangered species. Shortly thereafter Lecky was promoted to become the agency’s Director of Protected Resources, in which position he oversees production of all such biological opinions; and
- This October, Lecky directed agency biologists that since impacts on coral and other marine species as well as effects on ocean temperatures and acidity cannot be traced to any one source of greenhouse gas, no consultation was required on greenhouse gas-producing projects under the Endangered Species Act. While conceding the question was “an important issue of first impression that is of national significance,” Lecky nonetheless reached his conclusion in only one week without consulting NOAA scientists.
“During the Bush administration, officials who commit scientific fraud, issue illegal orders or work to undermine the public interest are routinely promoted and rewarded,” Ruch added. “In order to transform agencies which have been perverted from their purpose, the next administration must reach beyond the top positions into upper management to remove those, like Jim Lecky, who are hip deep in the dirty work.”