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Lawsuit Threatened Over U.S. Failure to Protect Imperiled Wildlife From Marine Highway Program
by Center for Biological Diversity
Wednesday Jul 28th, 2021 11:33 AM
Program Funds Expansion of Ship Traffic That Harms Protected Species
PORTLAND, Ore., July 27, 2021 — The Center for Biological Diversity fired a shot across the bow of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration today for failing to ensure that protected species are not jeopardized by the America’s Marine Highway Program. The program seeks to expand shipping on major rivers and coastal areas in Washington, Oregon, Virginia and other states where listed species are at risk.

“Large vessels routinely kill highly endangered species like Atlantic sturgeon and chinook salmon, yet that’s being ignored by the federal agency that funds barge traffic expansion in their habitat,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center. “Federal officials need to ensure that imperiled species aren’t jeopardized by this broad program. Protecting these animals from ships is required by the law, and it’s also the right thing to do.”

The America’s Marine Highway Program aims to expand the use of the country’s navigable waters for shipping. The agency promotes and funds the expansion of the marine highway system, which includes major rivers, such as the Columbia and Hudson rivers, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The program provides grants to purchase barges known to harm protected species through collisions, spills of fuel or chemicals, and expanded transport of fossil fuels, thereby contributing to the climate crisis.

In Virginia’s James River, where the program has funded barge traffic expansion, vessel collisions have killed dozens of Atlantic sturgeon, a highly endangered species. In the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River, where barge traffic is also subsidized by the program, ship traffic threatens juvenile salmon and other fish, as well as endangered whales and leatherback sea turtles that feed at the river’s mouth.

“Federal officials can’t keep sacrificing our waters and wildlife by ignoring the impacts of a program that has the potential to cause widespread harm,” said Margolis. “The government needs to ensure that programs like this fully consider environmental risks before investments are made and species are lost.”

The Maritime Administration has funded dozens of projects across the country. It recently announced that nearly $11 million has been made available for grants in 2021.

But the agency has failed undertake the required consultation with expert wildlife agencies to ensure that the program will not jeopardize imperiled animals. This includes programmatic consultation, which is necessary to establish standards and guidelines to avoid or minimize the effects of the program by instituting protocols to track and respond to the collective impacts on endangered species from the projects funded by the agency.

Photo: Spring-run Chinook salmon. Photo courtesy of Conrad Gowell, Native Fish Society.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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