The House Natural Resources Committee late yesterday approved H.R. 6008, a bill by Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), that threatens the critically endangered Rice’s whale with extinction. Rice’s whale is the only large whale species resident year-round in U.S. waters.
H.R. 6008 would establish that compliance with a Trump-era 2020 biological opinion on federally-regulated oil and gas program activities in the Gulf of Mexico — one that did not sufficiently protect the Rice’s whale — would be sufficient to comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and all other federal environmental laws until the National Marine Fisheries Service publishes a new opinion. Significantly, the legislation would also prohibit the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from implementing any additional protections for Rice's whales until the new opinion is complete.
“This bill should be known as a Graves Mistake,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “It is outrageous that Congress is even debating legislation that completely undermines our country’s bedrock wildlife protection laws. At a time when Rice’s whales desperately need robust protections to ensure their survival, Congress is playing God with their very existence.”
The bill would impose significant and time-consuming procedural hurdles designed to prevent NMFS from determining what the best available science indicates the species needs. To combat the bill’s unreasonable provisions, Democrats proposed multiple amendments to reinstate protections to the Rice’s whale within the legislation. The Republican majority rejected all amendments.
The Rice’s whale is one of the most endangered large whale species on the planet and was only recently discovered to be a new species.
The ESA is marking its 50th anniversary this year with a near-perfect track record of preventing the extinction of the species it protects. Newly released polling from Defenders of Wildlife shows bipartisan support for the ESA outside of Congress, with 84% of Americans supporting its mission and 80% believing it should be fully funded.