Environmentalists are warning that two bills going through Congress put the oil industry ahead of marine life, and could have a devastating effect on endangered species like the right whale.
The Streamlining Environmental Approvals (SEA) Act and Strengthening the Economy with Critical Untapped Resources to Expand American Energy (SECURE) Act have passed committee and could go up for a vote at any time, the Los Angeles Times reports. The bills would make it easier for oil companies to get permits to conduct seismic blasts in the ocean, used to find oil deposits. Scientists say those booms, which can be heard 1,500 miles away, disorient whales and dolphins to the point where they can't find food or reproduce.
Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, signed by former President Richard Nixon in 1972, companies that want to conduct seismic testing must show their operation will have "the least practicable impact" on "small numbers" of animals. The SEA Act gets rid of those conditions, automatically approves permits if reviews aren't finished within four months, and reverses the requirement that permits be issued only in specific regions.
"If it's the whales now, it's the fish next," Noah Oppenheim, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Assns., told the Times. "We are literally killing the ocean just by exploring for oil. This is really 99.9 percent of ocean stakeholders versus the 0.1 percent, the oil industry." The SEA Act was introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), whose office told the Times that his bill wasn't driven by oil interests.