Gulf of Mexico
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is the only Democratic governor to sign onto a letter requesting the Biden Administration to reconsider restrictions on the offshore oil and gas industry aimed at protecting Rice's whale. (Hilary Scheinuk/The Advocate via AP)AP

GOM - Why governors of four Gulf states are worried about a whale

A bipartisan coalition of four Gulf Coast governors are calling on the Biden Administration to reconsider restrictions protecting a critically endangered and elusive whale species.

The Outer Continental Shelf Governor’s Coalition (OCSGC) – in an October 5 letter to Andy Strelcheck, the Southeast Regional Administrator with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) – said that expanding a critical habitat designation for Rice’s whale would harm commerce traversing the Gulf of Mexico.

The governors are claiming restrictions under consideration could damage the U.S. economy. According to the letter, a requirement for federal permitting from the NMFS before offshore commercial activity can occur would create an economic “ripple effect” that is “felt across the entire U.S. economy.”

It would be harmful, they said, at a time families and businesses are “already struggling with inflation.”

“The cumulative effects of these restrictions would have severe effects on the economies of our coastal communities, our states, and the entire U.S. with the volume of trade that transits through the Gulf,” the letter reads.

The letter was signed by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, Republican Governors Kay Ivey of Alabama, Tate Reeves of Mississippi, and Greg Abbot of Texas.

The Biden administration is proposing to protect much of the Gulf – from Texas to Florida, including Alabama – from economic activity that is harmful to the Rice’s whale first confirmed as a species only two years ago, and which some researchers say only 51 remain.

The proposed restrictions include limiting vessel speeds and other operational restrictions on offshore fossil fuel activity. The whale’s No. 1 killer, according to environmental groups, are vessel strikes.

Environmental groups, which are pushing for the greater protections for the 60,000-pound whale, argue that there are already critical habitat designations in place for other endangered species, and that those have not halted the offshore energy industry.

Michael Jasny, director of marine mammal protection at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the letter is a “sky-is-falling” attitude that “bears no resemblance to reality.”

“Critical habitat has been designated for multiple Gulf species – manatees, for endangered sea turtles, for Gulf of Mexico sturgeon, in coastal areas that see far more commercial and industrial activity than any of the waters concerned here,” said Jansy. “Has critical habitat completely shut down coastal activity? Of course not. What it has done is help focus conservation effort on the habitat needed to save some of the Gulf’s most iconic animals.”

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