New Obameter promise: Will Obama fail the whales?

During the campaign, Obama promised more protections for whales.
During the campaign, Obama promised more protections for whales.

We're adding a new promise to the Obameter at the suggestion of one of our readers, who called our attention to an outcry by environmental groups that President Obama is breaking a pledge he made on the campaign trail about commercial whaling. We checked with the environmental group Greenpeace and found his original remarks from a questionnaire they sent him in December of 2007:

"As president, I will ensure that the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable," Obama wrote.

So we're adding it as Promise No. 524.

Groups such as Greenpeace and the International Fund for Animal Welfare are warning that Obama might break this promise because they believe he supports a proposal within the International Whaling Commission that would allow Japan and other whaling countries to kill a certain number of whales each year, despite the moratorium on commercial whaling that the IWC established in 1986.

Japan, Norway and Iceland kill a combined total of about 2,000 whales per year under self-imposed quotas. About half are killed by Japanese whalers, who exploit a loophole for "scientific research" to justify their kills. Norway and Iceland both filed official objections that exempt them from the moratorium.

In April, the leaders of the IWC made a proposal to mitigate tension between the pro-whaling and anti-whaling countries of the gridlocked commission. It was based on a belief that without some compromise, the IWC — and the moratorium it upholds — would both dissolve. If the proposal is accepted as it stands, it will legalize commercial whaling only for Japan, Norway, and Iceland. All other countries would remain subject to the moratorium. In exchange, the whaling countries will submit to stricter regulation and monitoring, and agree to quotas that some estimate will save 4,000 to 18,000 whales over the next 10 years. The IWC will be negotiating this proposal at their annual conference in Morocco until Sunday, when they hope to reach a consensus decision.

The new proposal, then, does two things at once. It weakens the international moratorium on commercial whaling by openly allowing three countries to violate the ban. But at the same time, officials argue that the new regulations and quotas will conserve far more whales than are conserved under existing conditions. 

It has been sharply criticized by environmental groups such as Greenpeace.

"If they adopted it today, [they are] rewarding whaling countries for thumbing their noses at the rest of them," said Phil Kline, the Senior Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace. "It’s good for whalers, not for the whales."

But the IWC leaders said in a press release that the proposal is "undeniably better than the status quo."

Whether the Obama administration supports the proposal is a matter of some debate. Many advocacy groups claim the administration supports it, which seems to be based on second-hand reports from other delegates to the IWC that the U.S. delegation has asked them to join the negotiation process.

But Monica Medina, U.S. Commissioner to the IWC, said a recent press briefing that the U.S. does not believe "the proposal as it’s currently drafted is sufficient," noting that the administration would like to see lower numbers for killing whales, firmer language regarding the ability to trade whale meat internationally, and a firm understanding of the commission’s plans after the 10-year proposal lapses.   

Kline, the Greenpeace official, said he's encouraged that U.S. could end up pushing a more limited proposal. "There seem to be some hopeful signs that the Obama administration is not going to, at the end of the day, support a proposal that’s good for the whalers and not for the whales," said Kline, who spoke to PolitiFact from the IWC meeting in Morocco. "But," he noted, "it’s not over until it’s over."
We agree, and since the Obama administration has not yet supported or opposed the proposal under consideration, we rate this promise In the Works.