Unmanned Undersea Vehicles: The Navy's New Platforms Need a Tailored Environmental Law Framework Open Access

Unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) should be treated as an independent category of vessels during the assessment of various environmental law issues of testing and training in United States waters. Because UUVs are distinct from other types of surface and submarine vessels in many ways, analysis of environmental law issues stemming from domestic UUV testing and training should be tailored specifically for what UUVs do, what they can do and how they do it. There currently exists no legal analysis framework specifically for UUVs. A simple extension of the legal conclusions reached for, and currently applied to, those other types of vessels is inappropriate for UUVs. All parties involved with and interested in the testing and training of UUVs in domestic waters, as well as the environment and the goals of environmentally-focused statutes and programs, are best served with a legal structure designed distinctively for this category of vessels. The capability of UUVs to minimize potential impacts upon the environment and to mitigate risk offer a beneficial mechanism for the United States Navy to execute its missions. Reduced harm and impact to the environment, and reduced threat of such harm and impact, equate to less risk when the Navy employs this new form of technology. New legal treatment and the application of new legal policies and conclusions about the domestic use of UUVs should follow accordingly.Analysis of the issue, limited in this thesis to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, highlights significant ways in which expanded use of UUVs domestically will better achieve the goals of environmental protection and conservation, as well as national defense, simultaneously.

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