Wednesday, January 17, 2018

January 9, 2018 

Dear House Natural Resources Committee member:

We urge you to vote “no” on H.R. 3133, a bill that would gravely weaken the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), our nation’s commitment to the conservation of all marine mammals: whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, walruses, sea otters, polar bears, and manatees.

Driven by Americans’ alarm over steep declines in marine mammal populations, Congress passed the MMPA with strong bipartisan support, and President Richard Nixon signed it into law in October 1972. The law protects individual marine mammals and their populations, and it applies to all people and vessels in U.S. waters, as well as American citizens and U.S.-flagged vessels on the high seas. As human uses of the ocean—shipping, fishing, energy development, defense, mining and tourism—expand, the need to prevent and mitigate harmful impacts to marine mammals is even greater now than when the MMPA was enacted 45 years ago.

Marine mammals are vital to the health of the oceans, and we still have much to learn about their roles since the dynamics of life in the sea are more challenging to study than those on land. For example, great whales—which include the largest animals in the history of life on earth—move nutrients through the ocean both vertically and horizontally across immense distances, supporting many other species of marine life.

Marine mammals also significantly benefit the U.S. economy. By keeping seaweed-eating sea urchins in check and enabling kelp forests to grow back and capture carbon dioxide, California sea otters are improving habitat for commercial fish species, protecting the coast from erosion by reducing the intensity of ocean waves, and drawing tourists with their charming antics. Whale-watching businesses thrive in every coastal region in the United States, with more than 450 whale-watching businesses, 5 million whale-watchers, and total revenues of nearly $1 billion in coastal tourism in 2008 (the most recent year for which comprehensive figures are available). Meanwhile, manatees draw visitors to Florida, especially in the winter when manatees congregate in warmer areas near freshwater springs.

Not one marine mammal found in U.S. waters has gone extinct in the 45 years since the MMPA became law, even as human activities in the ocean have dramatically increased. Furthermore, marine mammals are doing better in U.S. waters, with fewer species at risk of extinction here than in waters outside the United States. A number of species that had declined to perilously low levels have made significant progress toward restoration of their 

populations under the protection of the MMPA, including harbor porpoises in the Atlantic and elephant seals on the West Coast. These species are improving thanks to the MMPA, thus avoiding the need for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The two populations of humpback whale that feed in the United States, as well as eastern North Pacific gray whales and the eastern population of Steller sea lions, have significantly improved with the additional assistance of the ESA. 
Despite these successes, the MMPA is now under serious attack. H.R. 3133 seeks to promote controversial offshore oil and gas exploration, as well as other industrial activities in the ocean, by repealing protections that lie at the heart of the MMPA. The bill would gravely weaken the legal standards for issuing Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs), prevent agency scientists from requiring almost any kind of mitigation, sharply limit monitoring of impacts on marine mammals, and impose a system of tight deadlines and automatic permit approvals that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for scientists to provide any meaningful review of potentially harmful activities. The negative consequences of these changes for marine mammal conservation would be profound.

The provisions that H.R. 3133 would undermine are essential to conservation under the MMPA. Harassment from industrial activities can compromise vital behaviors—such as foraging, breeding, and nursing—on which marine mammals depend to survive and reproduce. The MMPA ensures that the impacts of these activities are properly regulated and minimized. To weaken these core provisions for oil and gas exploration and other activities, as H.R. 3133 intends, would subject America’s marine mammals to needless harm and make it far more likely that their populations will become threatened or endangered in the future.

While no U.S. marine mammal species has gone extinct, and some have recovered, others are facing steep odds for their survival, including Bryde’s whales in the Gulf of Mexico, false killer whales in both Hawaii and the Western North Atlantic, Cuvier’s beaked whales in the northern Pacific, and the Pribilof Island/Eastern Pacific stock of northern fur seals. Many of these animals are at risk of dying from vessel collisions or entanglement in fishing gear, and all are facing the impacts of chronic stressors, including ocean noise and pollution, which undermine their ability to thrive and reproduce.

In closing, we ask for your support for this bedrock conservation law, and your “no” vote on H.R. 3133 in the House Natural Resources Committee markup tomorrow. 

Sincerely, 
The undersigned 108 businesses and organizations 

 

1. Oceana 
2. Acoustic Ecology Institute 
3. Altamaha Riverkeeper 
4. American Cetacean Society 
5. American Cetacean Society Oregon Chapter 
6. American Cetacean Society Student Coalition 
7. Animal Welfare Institute 
8. Better Pool Service 
9. Blue Frontier 
10.Blue Sphere Foundation 
11.BlueVoice.org 
12.Center for a Sustainable Coast 
13.Center for Biological Diversity 
14.Center for Whale Research 
15.Cetacean Society International 
16.Chukchi Sea Watch 
17.Citizens Campaign for the Environment 
18.Clean Water Action 
19.Climate Law & Policy Project 
20.Coffee Party Savannah 
21.Conservation Law Foundation 
22.Debris Free Oceans 
23.Defenders of Wildlife 
24.Dogwood Alliance 
25.Earth Action, Inc. 
26.Earth Law Center 
27.Earthjustice 
28.Eco Goddess 
29.EcoStrings 
30.Endangered Species Coalition 
31.Environmental Caucus, California Democratic Party 
32.Environmental Defense Fund 
33.Finding 52 LLC 
34.Food and Farming Forum 
35.Friends of the Sea Otter 
36.Gotham Whale 
37.Greenpeace USA 
38.Group for the East End 
39.Gulf Restoration Network 
40.Hackensack Riverkeeper 
41.Hands Across the Sand / Land 
42.Heirs To Our Oceans 
43.Hip Hop Caucus 
44.Humane Society Legislative Fund 
45.Indivisible Fallbrook 
46.Inland Ocean Coalition & Colorado Ocean Coalition 
47.Inland Ocean Coalition / Colorado Ocean Coalition 
48.Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University 
49.International Fund for Animal Welfare 
50.International Marine Mammal Project of Earth island Institute 
51.Kingfisher Eastsound Studio 
52.League of Conservation Voters 
53.LegaSeas 
54.Marine Conservation Institute 
55.Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket 
56.Marine Watch International 
57.Mission Blue 
58.Mize Family Foundation 
59.Mystic Aquarium 
60.National Audubon Society 
61.National Parks Conservation Association 
62.Natural Resources Defense Council 
63.Nature of Hope 
64.New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance 
65.NY/NJ Baykeeper 
66.Ocean Conservation Research 
67.Oceanic Preservation Society 
68.One Hundred Miles 
69.One More Generation 
70.Orange County Coastkeeper/ Inland Empire Waterkeeper 
71.Orca Conservancy 
72.Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research 
73.Pacific Environment 
74.Pacific Marine Mammal Center 
75.PAX Scientific 
76.Power Shift Network 
77.Public Watchdogs 
78.Puget Soundkeeper Alliance 
79.Regenerative Seas 
80.Sailors for the Sea 
81.San Diego Hydro 
82.San Fernando Valley Audubon Society 
83.SandyHook SeaLife Foundation (SSF) 
84.Save Our Shores 
85.Save The Bay 
86.Save the Manatee Club 
87.Save the Whales and Oceans 
88.Seattle Aquarium 
89.Shark Stewards 
90.Sierra Club 
91.Sierra Club National Marine Team 
92.Sonoma Coast Surfrider 
93.South Carolina Coastal Conservation League 
94.Southern Environmental Law Center 
95.Surfrider Foundation 
96.Sylvia Earle Alliance / Mission Blue 
97.The Dolphin Project 
98.The Humane Society of the United States 
99. The Ocean Foundation 
100. The Whale Video Company 
101. The Wilderness Society 
102. Vision Power, LLC. 
103. Washington Environmental Council 
104. Weeks Consulting 
105. Whale and Dolphin Conservation 
106. Whale Scout 
107. Wild Dolphin Project 
108. World Animal Protection (US)