There are only about 300 North Atlantic right whales left. The principal cause of death for these marine mammals is collisions with ships. At least 19 have been killed this way since 1986 and very likely more. Because the right whale’s migration pattern takes it down the East Coast, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed a rule to put speed limits on commercial shipping near East Coast ports. It initiated this process 4 years ago on June 1, 2004. After an extended period left open for public comment, the NMFS proposed its rule in June 2006 and formally submitted it to Susan Dudley (see item 105) who heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) within the OMB. As of May 2008, nearly a year later, Dudley had still not completed her review of the rule. In an April 30, 2008 letter from Henry Waxman, Chairman of House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, to Dudley, Waxman noted that “Under Executive Order 12866, you are supposed to complete your review of the final rule within 90 days and can extend the review period by no more than 30 days.”
The delay came in part from objections raised by White House officials but also from the Vice President’s Office concerning data and analysis of the NMFS but also NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration). In essence, the objections were dismissive of the science but lacked any scientific merit of their own. This is hardly surprising. This Administration hates regulation, just as it hates any constraint on its power. That is what makes Dick Cheney’s involvement so interesting and telling. As so much in the last 7 years has shown, Cheney is not a man to let facts, or the right whale, get in the way of his ideology.
On August 25, 2008, under pressure from Cheney, NOAA released a final environmental impact statement that proposed reducing maritime speed limits of 10 knots/hour around major seaports from 30 to 20 nautical miles and added a 5 year sunset to the rule. With the comments period to end September 29, a rule to be finalized, published, and enter into force 60 days later, the rule could take effect (barring legal challenge) within a couple of weeks of the Administration’s end.