Cassidy, fellow senators call for proposed rule on Rice’s whale to be rescinded

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and 15 of his colleagues urged the Biden administration to withdraw a proposed rule that would designate more than 28,270 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico as critical habitat for the newly discovered Rice’s whale.

“The proposed rule as written fails to comply with important elements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and would jeopardize domestic energy production, national security, and other important interests,” the senators wrote in a bipartisan letter sent to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

“The ESA’s purpose is to provide adequate protections for the nation’s iconic wildlife while balancing the many uses of federal lands and waters,” wrote the lawmakers.

Sen. Cassidy and his colleagues pointed out that 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 that 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,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, NMFS failed to do so in this case, vastly underestimating the proposed rule’s economic and national security impacts.”

Moreover, they wrote, the proposed rule denies the public the opportunity to comment on the studies used in the proposed rule’s analysis; cites unreliable and incomplete sources for its conclusions; “vastly underestimates” costs for consultations under the ESA; fails to account for potentially significant project delays, modifications, and other economic costs resulting from the critical habitat designation; and also may jeopardize the nation’s military readiness and national security by imposing additional restrictions on training activities in the Gulf, according to their letter.

The lawmakers contend that the designation effort is a clear attempt to shut down oil and gas operations in the area over a single sighting of a whale in 2017.

“The reality is that decades of surveys of the Gulf have made very few observations of Rice’s whales and only in limited geographic areas,” wrote Sen. Cassidy and the lawmakers. “This is both legally and scientifically insufficient to demonstrate the Rice’s whales occupied the habitat.”

Among those who joined Sen. Cassidy in signing the letter was U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).