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9 AGs Join Lawsuit to Halt Damaging Oil & Gas Seismic Testing Along the Atlantic Coast

The Trump administration’s authorization will be devastating to thousands of marine species, and is strongly opposed by coastal communities up and down the Eastern seaboard.

December 20, 2018
Contact: Christopher Gray

Washington, D.C.— A coalition of nine state attorneys general led by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit currently before the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina challenging the unlawful decision by the Trump administration to allow five companies to begin oil and gas seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean. The attorneys general are seeking a court injunction halting final authorizations issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) allowing the companies to incidentally harass marine mammals during seismic testing.

“Seismic testing will have dangerous consequences for hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, including endangered species,” said Attorney General Frosh. “While the administration continues to place the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of our precious natural resources, attorneys general up and down the Atlantic coast will continue to fight these and other efforts to open the waters off our shores to drilling for oil and gas.”

Sound blasts from seismic testing can travel nearly 2,500 miles across the ocean, and can occur every ten seconds for weeks to months. The air-gun blasting can cause disruptions of communication, migration, feeding, and reproduction of marine mammals, fish, and creatures on the ocean floor, and can lead to loss of hearing and death. [insert language about the economic costs of ecosystem destruction from the final motion]

In April 2016, a group of 28 marine biologists wrote a letter to President Obama noting that seismic testing in the Atlantic would put enormous pressure on the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, and could push the species past the brink of extinction. NOAA’s decision to disregard this warning and issue Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) for marine mammals follows a devastating two-year period for the species in which there were 20 confirmed deaths. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are only 300 to 350 North Atlantic Right Whales remaining, including just 71 females young enough to breed. The IHAs authorized by NOAA would allow seismic testing to “take,” (otherwise understood as the harassing, harming, wounding or killing of) up to 19 critically endangered right whales.

In their motion to intervene, the attorneys general joined environmental groups in noting that NOAA’s decision violates several federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. The coalition also noted that the Trump administration failed to use the best available science in making its decision, and dramatically underestimated the economic costs associated with disturbing their states’ critical marine ecosystems.

“Undertaking oil and gas seismic testing activity up and down the East Coast presents a huge risk to marine ecosystems and coastal economies that has not been adequately evaluated or addressed by the Trump administration. said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “The Commerce Department’s unlawful approval of invasive seismic oil and gas exploration activity is particularly indefensible, given that the Interior Department has not taken final action to allow oil and gas exploration and production activity off the Atlantic coast and there is strong, bipartisan opposition to doing so. The attorneys general are once again stepping in to fight back against this administration’s unlawful and misguided efforts.”

In addition to Maryland, attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts,  New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Virginia joined the motion to intervene.

The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to working with state attorneys general to protect and advance clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies. For more information, visit http://www.law.nyu.edu/centers/state-impact.