Brosnan, in James Bond outfit, talks ocean life with whale-tied Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) (IFAW)
Pierce Brosnan continued his environmental assault on Washington yesterday with a visit to the White House and a mixer for members of Congress to boost a new bill on whale preservation.
"In spite of the existence of a moratorium on commercial whaling, the setting of whaling quotas is now completely in the hands of the whalers," the former "James Bond" actor told an audience at an event organized by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, at the Capitol Visitor's Center. "The rest of the world has no say whatsoever in it."Japan, Norway, Iceland
The bill, called the International Whale Conservation and Protection Act of 2009 (summary here), calls for the U.S. to strengthen whale preservation across relevant government agencies and to pressure the world's whaling countries -- Japan, Norway and Iceland -- to cease whaling.
"Normally on most issues with the United States, including on environmental issues, these three coutnries are fairly much in lock-step, but on this one issue they're not," said Jeffrey Flocken, the D.C. office director for IFAW. "So it makes it somewhat difficult but it also presents an opportunity -- can we play to our goodwill in these other areas of environmental cooperation to push them on the whaling issue?"
The three countries, led by Japan, have blocked efforts to lower whale quotas and have ignored an international ban on whaling that has been in place since 1982. Norway and Iceland (with some hesitation) have both claimed a reservation to the moratorium, while Japan has insisted that it is exempt because its whaling is done as "scientific research."
With the failings of international agreements and diplomatic complaints, some environmental groups have resorted to extreme measures to halt whaling ships. Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd regularly attempt to intercept whaling missions with their own vessels.
The bill would also tackle an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, afforded to the Department of Defense when it engages in oceanic activities with submarines and sonar. Under the bill, the President, not the secretary of defense, would have authority to make those exemptions.
Last year, the Supreme Court overturned a restriction by the state of California on the Navy's use of sonar, ruling that Navy operations took precedence over the health of whales, dolphins and seals, for whom sonar can cause hearing loss, disorientation and beaching.
"The domestic side of the legislation may prove most challenging," said Nathan Herschler, a legal fellow with IFAW.
But reaffirming the country's position on whaling would be the bill's major thrust.
"We would hope the United States could take a lead on the international side of this, take a lead on the International Whaling Comission, and that other countries would follow that lead," said Herschler.
White House Support
Brosnan, accompanied by his wife TK and officials from IFAW, visited the White House to speak to cabinet members responsible for environmental and marine policy. President Obama, who spent the early afternoon announcing landmark fuel standards, did not attend the meeting.
"Ironically, the President couldn't meet today with Pierce Brosnan and his wife because he was focused on CAFE standards," Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA) told TreeHugger. "While they may not immediately appear to be synergistic, if you step back and look at what we're doing, we're treating Mother Earth with respect.
"Any marine ecosystem that exists without the whales is diminished," he added. "This is one piece of a very large effort."
Delahunt said he was optimistic that legislation to protect whales would fare well in the House, where another co-sponsor of the bill, Eni Faleomavaega (D-AS), chairs the natural resources committee. And he was confident that the President would sign it. "But I can't speak for the Senate," he said.
He suggested that the legislation was coming at an appropriate time, as the House discussed the American Clean Energy and Security Act and the new administration signaled stronger environmental protections.
"[The bill] would accomplish the closing of those loopholes that have allowed for interpretation of scientific research to really transform itself into commercial whaling," said Delahunt, before returning to an evening mark-up of the House energy bill.
He's Irish -- But He Loves Whales
Brosnan, who spoke at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on Monday, rhapsodized on the connection between whale protection, efforts to fight climate change and "the interconnectedness of life."
"There's a certain synchronicity to our being here, a charming one, and hopefully a profitable one, a good one," he said. "Testifying before the EPA. Saving the whales. That is connected. That is our earth. Our earth many people believe is in jeapoardy. I have a great fondness for this earth. Clean water, mountains. Good fishing, et cetera. They seem to go hand in hand."
"Today was a step in the right direction -- historic, uplifiting, long overdue," Brosnan told me later, referring to the President's new automobile standards amidst the House's ongoing discussion. "We have fresh hope, fresh enthusiasm, that everybody wants to do good things for this planet and for our children. I'm not really a political animal so I can't speak beyond that."
Fifty-six-year-old Brosnan has been a regular champion of green issues and has worked on the issue of whale protection for over a decade, he said. He regularly takes part in campaigns with his wife Keely Shaye Smith, an environmentalist who had "been a great champion and inspiration to me."
Aside from his wife, Brosnan was joined by "Hardball" host Chris Matthews, who is a board member at IFAW.
During a lull in a press conference earlier, a Washington Times reporter asked Brosnan if he thought Moby Dick should be banned.
"How could you ban Melville?" the Irish-born actor intoned. "Read it. Read the prose."
Wearing a blazer and open collar worthy of "007," Brosnan was a picture of Hollywood cool. Someone else wondered how James Bond would save the whales. Brosnan quipped, "You'll have to ask Daniel Craig."
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