Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., led a coalition of 16 senators urging the Biden administration to withdraw environmental regulations that they said are a “clear attempt to shut down oil and gas operations.”

Cruz, Manchin and the 14 other lawmakers penned a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its subagency the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), taking issue with regulations designating a large swath of the Gulf of Mexico as a “critical habitat” for the endangered Rice’s whale. They argued the rules lacked evidence and, instead, seemed designed as a backdoor restriction on fossil fuel drilling.

“The proposed rule as written fails to comply with important elements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and would jeopardize domestic energy production, national security, and other important interests,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter shared with Fox News Digital late last week.

“In designating any particular area as a critical habitat, NMFS is required to use the best available science to consider the economic impact, the impact on national security, and any other relevant impact,” they continued. “Unfortunately, NMFS failed to do so in this case, vastly underestimating the proposed rule’s economic and national security impacts.”


According to the letter, the NMFS ultimately created the critical habitat designation based on just a single sighting of a Rice’s whale off the central Texas coast in 2017. They said decades of surveys have yielded few confirmed observations of the species in limited geographic areas that were outside the region blocked off by NMFS.

“This is both legally and scientifically insufficient to demonstrate the Rice’s whales occupied the habitat,” Cruz, Manchin and the other senators wrote. “The proposed designation also fails to meet the ESA’s requirement that a critical habitat be ‘specific areas within’ the broader geographical area occupied by the species.”


In July, the NMFS proposed to establish the Rice’s whale critical habitat designation, which would span more than 28,270 square miles across the Gulf of Mexico, an area larger than West Virginia. Such a designation, which agencies are enabled to establish under the Endangered Species Act, creates more restrictions on activities permitted or funded in that area.

In particular, the rulemaking identified “energy exploration, development, and production” as threats that “contribute to the risk of extinction” of the Rice’s whale.

The letter led by Cruz and Manchin was one of more than 25,740 public comments submitted to the NMFS in response to the regulations. In addition, the agency received comments from several energy industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and National Ocean Industries Association, and the U.S. Navy, which argued it would pose national security risks.

“This Rice’s whale proposed rule includes a very broad attribute of the critical habitat,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Karnig Ohannessian wrote in a letter to NMFS. “The lack of an objective standard when paired with this scientific uncertainty creates risk to Navy activities in a resulting critical habitat consultation, and potential follow-on litigation.”

The NMFS, meanwhile, proposed the rule shortly after it entered into a settlement with left-wing environmental groups that led to the removal of about six million acres from a future oil and gas lease sale and imposed various restrictions on oil and gas vessels. 

The agency was then sued by oil industry groups and the state of Louisiana over the actions and a federal court ruled the Biden administration must move forward with the upcoming lease sale without the restrictions. An appeals court then delayed the lease sale until November while it reviews the case.