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White House weighs critical habitat for Rice’s whale

By Michael Doyle | 06/10/2024 01:36 PM EDT

The whale has attracted outsize legal and political attention because it roams the energy-rich Gulf of Mexico.

A Rice's whale in the Gulf of Mexico.

A Rice's whale is seen in the Gulf of Mexico. Marine Mammal Commission

The White House is reviewing a contentious proposal to designate some 28,000 square miles of critical habitat for the endangered Rice’s whale.

Following several years of litigation, political maneuvering and scientific debate, NOAA Fisheries last Thursday submitted the whale’s final critical habitat plan to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

The review by the White House’s regulatory gatekeepers — part of the Office of Management and Budget — marks the last big step before NOAA Fisheries publishes the final designation. There is no set timeline for how long OIRA reviews will take; another NOAA Fisheries’ regulatory proposal, concerning high-seas driftnet fishing, has been floating around OIRA since January.

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The longer the wait, though, the more vulnerable the final critical habitat designation rule could become to a congressional reversal in the event of a Trump administration. A court settlement, moreover, calls for a final critical habitat designation to be made by June 15.

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