WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate Western Caucus Chair Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) joined Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and 14 of their colleagues in sending a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to request they withdraw the proposed rule for designation of ‘critical habitat’ for the Rice’s whale.
“Designation of a critical habitat may lead to severe restrictions of area activities, including those conducted by federal agencies, requiring a federal permit or license, or are federally funded. In designating any particular area as a critical habitat, NMFS is required to use the best available science to consider the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other relevant impact. Unfortunately, NMFS failed to do so in this case, vastly underestimating the proposed rule’s economic and national security impacts,” the senators wrote.
In 2021, NOAA determined that the Rice’s whale was a new species, distinct from Bryde’s whales, and estimated their population at less than 100 whales. The Rice’s whale has been consistently located in the northeastern Gulf of Mexico, along the continental shelf break between 100 and about 400 meters depth.
On July 21, 2023, the day after NOAA’s Commerce Committee budget hearing, NOAA entered into an undisclosed proposed settlement agreement with the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth to immediately reform a new multi-year biological opinion. The deal also would make six million acres of the Gulf of Mexico off limits to oil and gas leasing in the next lease sale as well as punish those receiving leases by imposing a 10-knot speed restriction with night-time and visibility restrictions on vessels engaged in oil and gas servicing, all in the name of supposedly protecting the Rice’s whale. This plan implemented with no public input. Litigation has been temporarily paused.
On July 24, 2023, NOAA published a proposed rule under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to formally create a critical habitat area for the Rice’s whale. The public comment period for this rule closes at midnight on October 6th.
Last week, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced the Warding Off Hostile Administrative Lease Efforts (WHALE) Act to prevent the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Interior from issuing maritime rules related to the Rice’s Whale that would shut down offshore energy development and impede military activities.
Read a copy of the letter here.