WASHINGTON (AFP) — The US Supreme Court Wednesday ruled the US Navy can continue to use long-range sonar in exercises off the California coast, dismissing arguments that the practice was harmful to whales.
"Even if the plaintiffs have shown irreparable injury from the navy's training exercises, any such injury is outweighed by the public interest and the navy's interest in effective, realistic training of its sailors," the court said in a written opinion.
It upheld the case brought by the government which argued President George W. Bush has the constitutional power to exempt the US Navy from environmental laws curbing the use of long-range sonar in the North Pacific Ocean.
The navy uses just such sonar off California to look for hostile submarines lurking beneath the Pacific, but has duelled with environmentalists for years in federal courts over its use.
Environmentalists say such sonars have potentially catastrophic consequences for marine life, arguing they have disoriented animals and caused mass deaths in the Bahamas and Canary islands.
In January, a court required the navy to take safety precautions in the California coast inhabited by five species of endangered whales.
A few days later, Bush granted an exemption to the navy, arguing the use of sonars was vital for military preparedness exercises that were in the "paramount interest of the United States."
Environmentalists took their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court's decision in February.
But the government then petitioned the Supreme Court.
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