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Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act Reintroduced in 116th Congress
April 9, 2019

north atlantic right whale #3370 swims with her calf near palm coast, florida on march 21, 2019

North Atlantic right whale #3370 swims with her calf about half a nautical mile from the shore of Palm Coast, Florida on March 21, 2019. The calf is partially rolled on its side, showing their entire right lip. #3370 is at least 16 years old and this is her second calf. Mother/calf pairs are at the highest risk from seismic blasting as the stress levels and energy expended in trying to escape the blasting could affect reproduction and calves could become separated from their mothers because the calls they use to communicate could be drowned out by the blasting.
credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, permit #20556-01

The Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act (H.R. 1606) has been reintroduced in the 116th Congress by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). The legislation would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to prohibit oil, gas, and methane hydrate-related seismic activities in the North Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Straits of Florida planning areas of the outer Continental shelf.

This is extremely important legislation that would protect highly endangered North Atlantic right whales - and all other life in the Atlantic Ocean - from the devastating effects of seismic blasting. There is also an urgent need to pass this legislation as soon as possible, considering that five permits for seismic blasting in the Atlantic were approved in December of 2018. The decision to allow seismic blasting violates three federal laws - the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Environmental Policy Act - which led a large, diverse coalition of groups to file a lawsuit against the proposed blasting. A coalition of conservation organizations is also seeking a court order to put an immediate halt to the blasting while the lawsuit works its way through the courts.

A more permanent solution is needed in the long-term though and that's what this legislation would provide. It's a simple bill that only comes in at two pages long but that's as long as it needs to be in order to ban seismic blasting. If this only two-page bill could be passed, North Atlantic right whales and the countless other species that call the Atlantic Ocean home would be safe from the devastating noise pollution and physical damage from seismic blasting - and from the drilling, extraction, transportation and burning of any oil that was found during the blasting. Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) also participated in the hearing that was held by the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee in the House that was held on March 7th. We wrote about Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) using an air horn during the hearing to demonstrate noise pollution that would be caused by seismic blasting. Rep. Beyer begins his questioning at 1:29:41 in the video of the hearing.

We fully endorse the Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act (H.R. 1606) and believe it does have a chance of passing the House now. When the bill was introduced in 2017 during the 115th Congress it had 40 co-sponsors - 37 Democrats and 3 Republicans - one of the Republicans was Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) who is an original co-sponsor of the new bill and the other two Republicans lost their seats but to Democrats that are strongly opposed to seismic blasting (Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) and Rep. Joe Cunningham).

Of the 37 Democrats, most kept their seats and will most likely cosponsor the new bill while a few others left Congress but were replaced by Democrats that we believe will cosponsor or at least vote for the new bill as well. A companion bill, S. 828, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) along with nine other Democrats and 1 Independent - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Unfortunately, even if it passes the House, the Senate will most likely not hold a vote on S. 828 as the Senate Republicans are increasingly hostile to the Endangered Species Act - one of the major laws that protects North Atlantic right whales - and they are also very supportive of the oil and gas industries. Even if it somehow passed the Senate, it would not be signed into law because the President and his allies are the ones that want the oil drilling to occur. However, it's important for this legislation to be passed (something that was impossible in the previous Congress due to Republican control) in order to lay the groundwork for the ban to eventually be signed into law.

More Information:

Congressman Blasts Air Horn During Hearing to Demonstrate Noise Pollution - 3/30/2019

Groups Seek Court Order to Block Seismic Blasting in Atlantic Ocean - 2/23/2019

Federal Judge Halts Offshore Oil Drilling Permits During Government Shutdown - 1/24/2019

Special Report: Trump Administration Approves Seismic Blasting in Atlantic Ocean - 12/8/2018

To find out more about what is happening to North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales and how we can all take actions in our everyday lives to protect them, please visit our Facts and Action sections on our website. We also post updates and pictures on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter.