A Big Pain in the SURTASS | The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
A Big Pain in the SURTASS
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The left’s goal of disarming America hasn’t made much progress in Congress or the White House since Lil’ Billy left town. But the libs’ success in court using the environmental laws to shut down the military has reached an alarming level. At the voting booth today Americans will decide whether the anti-military left will continue to succeed at forcing America to disarm unilaterally through environmental litigation.

Controlling the Senate means controlling the appointment of federal judges and the power to relieve the Defense Department of some of the insidious effects of the environmental laws. Since the mid-1990s the Jane Fonda Democrats — in their new fashionable guise of enviro-whackos — have scored one success after another in their effort to limit what the military can do. Even the Marines at Camp Pendleton can’t walk or pitch their tents just anywhere, because they are under court restraints to protect endangered critters and plants. Now that there’s a war on, you’d think the enviros would have to take a back seat. And you’d be wrong. Two court decisions, one of which came down late last week, show what judges are doing at the behest of lefties such as the National Resources Defense Council.

In the submarine business, silence is golden. Until the Walker family spy ring gave most of it away, our sub technology reduced the noise our subs emitted to such a degree that our attack boats could hunt and kill any Soviet missile boat with little danger of being detected. Now, the Russians and others are building extraordinarily quiet nuclear and diesel-electric subs that we can’t detect nearly as easily. SURTASS — the new Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System — is an active low-frequency sonar that can detect the newer quiet enemy submarines at great distance. According to an affidavit signed by Adm. Nathman, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, the threat posed by these subs is at the “very top of those facing the U.S. Navy,” “presenting a clear and present danger in crucial parts of the world including the Persian Gulf, along the Korean Peninsula, and in the Taiwan Strait.” The Natural Resources Defense Council sued to prohibit all peacetime use of SURTASS. In the NRDC’s view, because it is an active sonar, SURTASS can hurt the hearing of whales and other protected marine species. But SURTASS, noisy as it is, isn’t disturbing a silent ocean.

We need to remember that Mother Nature is a noisy old broad. Even underwater, earthquakes, surface lightning strikes and other frequent natural events create ear-shattering noise. Despite this noise, whales and every other creature seem to be able to breed and feed. But the environmental laws are so strict that they stop the show even when applied by good judges such as Magistrate Elizabeth LaPorte.

The NRDC showed that lunkheads at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), in giving the Navy permission to use SURTASS, failed to consider things like the grounding of a bunch of whales in the Bahamas, which might have been related to use of another, very different type of sonar. And why are the NMFS nitwits in charge of the Navy’s ability to use sonar at sea? Because the environmental laws put the civilian agencies in charge. Judge LaPorte did what she could, and only blocked the Navy from using SURTASS in peacetime, and only in areas where whales congregate most. Bad as that is, it’s not half as bad as when one of Lil’ Billy’s anti-military judges gets hold of a case like this. Like when a D.C. federal judge stopped the Navy from bombing Nothing Atoll.

Just like NMFS controls permits for use of SURTASS, the National Fish and Wildlife Service rules over the Navy/Marine bombing range at tiny Farallon de Medinilla, about 200 acres of coral in the middle of nowhere, 150 miles north of Guam. FDM has only two noticeable characteristics. First, it is the home of many unendangered migratory birds, such as the red-footed booby. Second, and not very important to the NRDC or the judge, for the past 25 years it’s been the place where Marine and Navy aviators assigned to the Pacific Fleet can practice in unlimited airspace with the green faces and SEALs on the ground. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can fly at any speed or altitude, in any formation, and use live ordnance, including precision-guided munitions.

The Center for Biological Diversity (the name says it all) sued to close the range because the Navy’s permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t account for the unintentional killing of any birds. Because of that Judge Emmett Sullivan — a Clinton boyo if ever there was one — told the Navy it couldn’t bomb FDM at all.

I have been in or around the military all my life, and never before have I seen statements by senior officers like those I read in the FDM case. Before the injunction was issued, the Navy submitted an affidavit signed by Marine Lt. Gen. James Cartwright, then commander of the First Marine Aircraft Wing. Gen. Cartwright’s affidavit said that FDM was the “only target range in the Pacific Theater” where strike aircraft can do the unlimited training they need to be ready to fight. Judge Sullivan closed FDM anyway, apparently not caring that we are at war, or that those Marines could be headed into action any day.

In a later affidavit, this time submitted to the appeals court, Gen. Cartwright detailed the effect of FDM’s closure on one of the squadrons denied training by Judge Sullivan’s order. He said, “The squadron’s lost training opportunity at FDM has degraded its readiness and thereby dramatically increased aircrew risk and the likelihood of mission failure should it be ordered into combat tomorrow.” Gen. Cartwright obviously is misguided. He apparently thinks the lives of his pilots and defeating the enemy are more important than blowing up a few red-footed boobies. (General, you clearly don’t understand Congress. But I’ll buy you the best steak and the best bottle of wine at The Palm any day you want it.)

The appeals court temporarily set aside Judge Sullivan’s order, but it’s less than even money that it will reverse his decision. More of these cases are being filed, and more will stop essential military activities. We are at war, dammit, and anti-military people like the NRDC, CBD and Judge Sullivan should not be able to use the environmental laws to endanger pilots or raise the chance that we won’t win a fight.

Only Congressional action can stop this idiocy. DoD’s actions should not ignore the environment altogether. But different standards must be in place, and civilian agencies such as the Fish and Wildlife and NMFS can’t control these decisions. So long as Tom Daschle is in charge of the Senate, this will continue, and get worse. Think about that while you watch the election returns tonight. Saddam delendus est.

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