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Press Release Published: Apr 12, 2024

Comer & Waltz Seek Information About Proposed Rules that Could Jeopardize Mariners’ Safety & Disrupt Economic Activity

WASHINGTON—House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and Representative Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) today are raising concerns the Biden Administration’s proposed whale habitat protection rules could endanger the lives of mariners and disrupt vital economic activity. In a letter to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Richard Spinrad, the lawmakers request a briefing to ensure the proposed standards have accounted for vessel and crew safety.

“As Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, we write to express our concern that proposed Rice’s whale and North Atlantic right whale expanded habitat protections could jeopardize the safety of vessels operating in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Eastern Seaboard.  While reasonable measures should be taken to safeguard wildlife, the proposed measures for each species will not only hinder vital economic activity and add undo stress to supply chains, proposed actions could unnecessarily endanger the lives of mariners.  As such, we request a staff-level briefing to ensure that the proposed standards have properly accounted for vessel and crew safety,” wrote the lawmakers.

On July 24, 2023, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the NOAA published the proposed rule, “Endangered and Threatened Species; Designation of Critical Habitat for the Rice’s Whale.” If enacted, the rule would designate 28,270 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico as critical habitat for Rice’s whales, and proposed critical habitat stipulations would compel vessels within this zone to comply with strict operating procedures that establish a 10-knot speed limit for oil and gas vehicles, prohibit movement at night, and require vessels to utilize visual whale observers. Additionally, on August 1, 2022, NMFS and NOAA published the proposed rule Amendments to the North Atlantic Right Whale Vessel Strike Reduction Rule, which would nearly double protected areas for the North Atlantic right whale along the Atlantic Coast, implement a 10-knot speed limit for vessels, and include smaller crafts in its scope.   

“While these measures aim to safeguard marine life, the proposed rules could have unintended consequences that endanger vessels operating off our coasts. Certain watercrafts are not designed to operate within a 10-knot speed limit, and slower maneuvering speeds for large vessels in the proposed conditions would add unnecessary safety hazards for mariners. As evidenced by the unfortunate capsizing of the liftboat Seacor Power in 2021, vessel speed is an integral component to ensuring craft integrity and crew safety, especially in dangerous situations. Further, restricting vessel movement to daylight hours for industries that operate continually would not only severely hamper supply chains for essential goods and resources, it could also prompt imprudent determinations from captains attempting to meet deadlines,” continued the lawmakers.

Read the letter to NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad here.