Right Whale, Right Rules?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum

S. 2657 would require the Secretary of Commerce to prescribe regulations to reduce the incidence of vessels colliding with North Atlantic right whales by limiting the speed of vessels, and for other purposes. This week it’s up for vote in the Senate Commerce Committee.

This week, the Senate Commerce Committee votes on S. 2657 which would extend the reach of Congress into Office of Management and Budget.  Senator Kerry introduced the bill to force the White House to finalize a long-delayed rule to protect right whales from ship strikes.  The legislation is meant to expedite the implementation of rules from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that were finished one year ago now tied up in the review process.  These rules require large ships to reduce their speed in an effort to stop them from hitting and killing the endangered North Atlantic right whales.  On average, two whale collisions occur each year resulting in fatality and strikes are the greatest known loss to the right whale population that NMFS estimates at less than 350 individuals.  The proposed rule would require ships longer than 65 feet to reduce speed along the shore during peak right whale migratory months.

According to E&E News, NOAA submitted a draft final rule to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in February 2007 after going through the formal proposal, comment and review process and the rules were judged “economically significant.” Currently, the process allows unlimited time for the White House to review the regulations and S.2657 would require the administration to issue the rules within 30 days.  Additionally, it would require the incorporation of protections first proposed in June 2006.

Shipping companies call the restrictions are too expensive, with estimated costs over of $100 million per year. For perspective, the East Coast shipping trade is valued at $300 billion.  The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council of Economic Advisers have provided feedback on the rules and OIRA has consulted both the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the World Shipping Council.

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