For 45 years, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) has succeeded in its mission to protect individual marine mammals, as well as entire populations, from harassment, injury, and death due to human activities. Unfortunately, legislation currently under consideration poses immediate threats to this law. HR 3133 would dismantle core elements of the MMPA that limit harm to marine mammals. Not only would it fast-track permits to harass marine mammals in the course of industrial activities such as oil exploration and drilling, but it would also require automatic approval of such permits if government scientists haven’t completed their review by an arbitrary deadline. Protections guaranteed to marine mammals under the Endangered Species Act would also be eliminated.
Because vocal opposition to HR 3133 was hampering its progress, the House Natural Resources Committee added it to another bill it approved and sent to the House floor. HR 4239, the SECURE American Energy Act, prioritizes energy development over marine mammal conservation. This bill also transfers all MMPA permitting authority to the Department of Interior, which not only lacks the expertise to monitor threats to most marine mammals, but is also overly zealous in its efforts to accommodate the oil and gas industry, regardless of the implications for the ocean environment.
The energy bill, unfortunately, was not the committee’s only assault on wildlife protection laws. In September, it approved HR 3668, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act. Among its many anti-wildlife provisions, this bill would transfer management of wolves in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin to those states; redefine “hunting” in order to open millions of additional acres of public lands to cruel and dangerous trapping; prohibit the regulation of toxic lead hunting and fishing gear; prevent a review of the impact of management activities in national wildlife refuges; and curtail two important habitat conservation programs.
Both HR 4239 and 3668 await action by the full House.