The Seagull or the Whale?

Seth Victor

Seagulls around Argentina have become too crafty for their own good. Exhibiting behavior straight out of a Hitchcock movie, the gulls have figured out that if they peck at the skin of breaching right whales, they can open wounds on the whales, and then feast every time the cetaceans surface. Apparently this started with a few gulls, but they have spread the word, and now the birds pose a serious threat to the whales’ livelihood, especially the calves. Citing the danger to the whales, the Argentine government is now permitting people to shoot the gulls, and recover their bodies before they are ingested, before the whales migrate to safer seas. Environmentalist are upset with the decision, claiming that is it not the fault of the birds, so much as it is the fault of the open landfills in the area that have attracted them in the first place. Clean up the trash, and the birds will naturally disperse. The issue is also an economic one, as whale watching makes up a significant part of tourism revenue. Continue reading

The Whale Killing Compromise Founders

David Cassuto

The perseverating continues about whether to `compromise´and allow some whaling in exchange for countries like Iceland, Norway and Japan agreeing to slaughter fewer whales in fewer places.  Even some major environmental organizations, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, have signed on.  As Stephanie Ernst  points out, there is a dangerous ethical compromise in acquiescing to the killing of some in exchange for the survival of others.     Continue reading

Endangered Sei Whale Sushi — You Just Have to Know Who to Ask

The Hump, a chic Japanese restaurant in Santa Monica, served sushi made from the flesh of the endangered sei whale to customers willing to fork over the appropriate dough.  Two patrons went to the restaurant with an undercover film crew and, after racking up a $600 tab, requested whale meat.  The chef served it up —  it was even identified as such on their tab.  The patrons (and their film crew, who were acting at the behest of Louie Psihoyos, Oscar-winning director of The Cove) smuggled some flesh out of the restaurant, where they had it genetically tested.    Continue reading

NEPA, Preliminary Injunctions, and Animals

David Cassuto

A few days ago, I and a few colleagues from Pace and several other American law schools met at Shanghai Jiao Tong  University School of Law with a number of Chinese academics and members of the Chinese Ministry of Environment.  We were there because the Chinese government wanted our input as it attempts to reshape the country’s environmental law regime to make it more effective and enforceable.  Towards that end, the members of the Ministry were particularly interested in the United States’ National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA requires that federal agencies contemplating an action that could significantly impact the environment do an assessment to determine the scope and nature of those potential impacts.  This involves a preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) and then, unless the EA makes clear that no significant environmental impact is possible, a full review in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

NEPA is purely procedural in scope; once an agency carries out a proper review, it can go forward with the proposed action regardless of the potential impact.  However, the assessment process often reveals potential mitigation measures and/or legal hurdles that can change or even halt a given project.

My presentation to the Chinese dealt with the 2008 Supreme Court case, Winters v. NRDC (129 S.Ct 365 (2008)).  In Winters, the NRDC filed suit to stop the Navy from using Mid-Frequency Active Sonar (MFA) during exercises off the California coast until it completed an EIS that adequately documented potential harms to marine mammals.  The Navy lost in the lower courts, where the district court issued (and the circuit court upheld) a preliminary injunction staying the exercise pending resolution of the lawsuit.  The Navy asked for and received an emergency exemption from the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) relieving it from compliance with NEPA.  The Navy then went back to the lower courts asking that the injunction be lifted.  The lower courts refused – holding that the CEQ’s action violated the separation of powers.  The Navy appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed on a number of grounds.

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