Thursday, May 21, 2015

Senator Booker Questions NOAA Director About Rutgers Seismic Study

At a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing conducted yesterday, May 20, 2015, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey questioned NOAA Director Kathryn Sullivan about the proposed seismic survey that would occur this Summer off the coast of New Jersey and be performed by Rutgers University inconjunction with the National Science Foundationand the Lamont Dougherty Earth Observatory.  The hearing was conducted by the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard subcommittee of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, of which Senator Booker is a member. 

Demonstrating a commitment and concern for our offshore fishing grounds, marine mammals and the processes by which they are to be protected under federal law, Senator Booker expressed “frustration” that, for the second year in a row, the State of New Jersey was denied “its right to a proper consistency review” under federal law by NOAA’s Office of Coastal Management.  The Senator asked Dr. Sullivan to commit staff to facilitating mediation between the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the study proponents concerning mitigation measures proposed by the State to reduce the harm threatened by the proposed seismic study.  Dr. Sullivan replied that she appreciated the Senator’s concerns and committed to staying “closely engaged with both [ ] DEP and your staff and, to the degree possible, with the National Science Foundation”.   

Senator Booker expressed further concern with the fact that the science and information concerning the proposed seismic survey is changing, and that no opportunity was being provided for the public to review and comment upon this new information.  The Senator explained that the public notice issued by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service advised that 1,323 marine mammals will be potentially harmed by the proposed seismic study; however, last week, after the public comment period closed, NMFS issued an authorization for the harassment of more than 18,000 marine mammals, including more than 12,000 bottle nosed dolphin.  The Senator called this “a massive increase” and cited the recommendation of the Marine Mammal Commission (an independent federal agency tasked with reviewing such authorizations) for a new public comment period based upon the revised estimates of marine mammals that will be harrased.  Senator Booker asked Dr. Sullivan if she would “commit to exploring the renoticing of this permit application with the correct numbers of the marine mammals to be harassed so . . .  that my constituents can adequately review and comment upon this application.”  Dr. Sullivan replied that she would “certainly commit to look into that change. . . that is news to me, I have not seen those numbers . . . .”

An archived video feed of the hearing is available at:

The above-referenced questions from Senator Booker and responses from Dr. Sullivan can be viewed between the time marks of 39:20 and 44:57.

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