Plan for sonar range off Georgia/Florida in dispute as endangering whales

17 11 2008


By Steve Patterson | The Times-Union

A Navy plan to build a training range for sonar exercises off Jacksonville’s coast is worrying Florida and Georgia environmental agencies.  Officials in both states have told the Navy that ship traffic from the training range could harm endangered right whales, which spend the winter offshore raising their young.

“The waters offshore of Georgia and northeast Florida are the only known calving ground for the species. Protection of the right whale calving habitat is critical for population recovery,” Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Noel Holcomb wrote in a response to a draft Navy report on the project.

Today is the start of the whales’ calving season, which lasts until April 15. There are about 350 remaining right whales.

Training less during calving season is the best way to avoid harming them, said recommendations from Holcomb’s agency and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Federal rules protecting right whales treat the area close to Jacksonville’s shoreline as “critical habitat” for the giant mammals. The training range would be about 50 miles offshore, outside that critical zone.

But agencies in both states argued that whales are found throughout the area, not just near the beach. One whale fitted with an electronic monitor in 2005 traveled 73 miles east of shore, the Conservation Commission noted.

The Navy named Jacksonville in September as its top choice for a training site, after weighing four Atlantic coast locations. Ships, submarines, planes and helicopters would train there for anti-submarine warfare.

The 500-square-mile range would be fitted with underwater sensors to track vessels’ movements. That’s supposed to help trainers critique the crews’ performance quickly so they learn more from each exercise. Without such a system, training critiques are sometimes filed weeks later, after reviewers piece together data recorded on each vessel.

Read on here.


Ga. senators navigate oil drilling fight

15 09 2008



The last time Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson tried to find middle ground in an emotional policy battle before Congress, they quickly abandoned a bipartisan immigration package after getting pilloried from the right.

Now the Republicans are in the thick of a debate over oil drilling, and they’re again fending off criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh over a compromise that would raise taxes on oil companies while paving the way for new drilling off the nation’s coasts.

The issue could come to a head this week as energy takes center stage on Capitol Hill and both parties maneuver to take credit for addressing $4-a-gallon gas prices.

Chambliss and Isakson are so far standing firm behind their proposal, which started with backing from a so-called “Gang of 10” and now has 20 Senate sponsors. But as the package gains bipartisan support, it also is drawing complaints from Republicans that it undercuts GOP momentum on the year’s most high-profile political issue weeks before the November elections.

Limbaugh has repeatedly ridiculed the proposal on his conservative radio show, saying House Republicans are pressing for much more ambitious drilling while the Senate proposal “basically cuts (them) off at the knees.”

The senators also have taken heat from congressional colleagues, including from fellow Georgia Republicans. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta has said the senators are engaged in “procedural pleasantries” while Rep. Tom Price of Roswell contended their approach “doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Price said it is “foolhardy” to leave vast coastal areas off limits to drilling and said “tax increases on domestic oil production is counterproductive to bringing new American energy to the market.”

Chambliss and Isakson dismiss the criticism, arguing that voters want Congress to set aside differences and agree on something that will make a difference – even if it requires trade-offs.

“Usually if the extremes are raising cain, it means you’re doing something right,” said Chambliss, who spearheaded the compromise along with Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat. “We think if anything is going to get 60 votes, it’s going to be our proposal.”

The plan would allow drilling 50 miles off the coasts of Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, and the Gulf coast of Florida. It would eliminate tax breaks for the oil and gas industry to generate some $30 billion in revenue, with the money used to offset a massive new investment in alternative energy.

Read on here.

Georgia Lawmakers Support Off-Shore Drilling for Oil

1 08 2008

Georgia lawmakers largely support President Bush’s call to lift a long-standing ban on offshoreoil drilling, including off the state’s coast.  All nine of Georgia’s Republican congressmen, including both senators, back the proposal. Three of six Democrats also support it, along with Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The new push for drilling is a response to increasingly urgent complaints from constituents about $4-a-gallon gasoline.

Many experts, including Energy Department forecasters, predict that offshore supplies would amount to a drop in the global bucket and would have little effect on gas prices. But drilling supporters say no one really knows how much oil is out there and that Congress can no longer ignore it.

Read more here.