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New Biden policy to bring Port of Mobile to ‘virtual standstill,’ Port Authority says

A recently proposed policy by President Joe Biden to reduce the size of oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has received strong pushback from Alabama State Port Authority officials, who say the proposal could impede shipments at the Port of Mobile and bring its operations to a “virtual standstill.”

In August, after a concerted effort from marine scientists and conservationists to preserve an endangered whale species, the Biden Administration reduced the acreage of permitted offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico by roughly 10%. In certain areas critical to the whale species, known as the rice’s whale, vessels would also be required to abide by reduced speeds, as well as only traverse during daytime hours.

The proposal is subject to a 60-day review period, after which it may be approved by U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland. 

Leadership at the port authority, as well as Sen. Tommy Tuberville and others, are calling on Biden to reverse his proposal.

“Whether cars and fuel or forest products and steel, the state of Alabama and its port are critical players in the global supply chain,” said authority spokesperson Maggie Oliver.

“Federal advocacy on this issue is key to preventing a rule that, if implemented, would bring operations at the Port of Mobile to a virtual standstill and upend the delivery of consumer goods and energy resources nationwide. Any potential rulemaking should be structured so as not to impede economic development in Alabama nor hinder our nation’s economic competitiveness globally.”

In a letter addressed to Richard Spinrad and Liz Klein, the administrator for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and director of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, respectively, Tuberville argued such regulations could severely impact the nation’s ability to become energy independent.

“Designating a Critical Habitat for the Rice’s whale throughout this expansive area will impose undue burdens and restrictions on all vessel traffic, especially in and out of the Port of Mobile,” Tuberville said.

“Requiring all lessees and operators to comply with reduced speeds of 10-knots or less and preventing them from traveling after dusk and before dawn within the designated areas will detrimentally impact our nation’s ability to domestically produce oil and gas in hopes of becoming energy independent.”

The Port of Mobile is among the busiest ports in the country, covering 4,000 acres, generating more than 300,000 jobs and providing $85 billion in economic value to the state in 2021 alone, with operations continuing to expand.

Listed as among the most endangered species in the world, the rice’s whale was recognized as a new species as recently as 2021. Primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico, the whale is estimated to have a population of as low as 51, with the Marine Mammal Commission citing vessel strikes and oil and gas-related activities as some of the species’ major threats to survival.

Still, industry leaders, including those from the Consumer Energy Alliance and the National Ocean Industries Association – two nonprofits that lobby on behalf of the fossil fuel industry –  praised Tuberville for speaking out against Biden’s proposal to protect the species, with Kaitlin Hammons, CEA vice president, calling the proposal’s restrictions “punitive, burdensome and chilling.”

A number of oil and gas companies, as well as the state of Louisiana, have sued the federal government over the Biden Administration’s proposal, arguing them to be unlawful. The proposal will be under review by the president and Congress until late October, pending final approval from the U.S. secretary of interior.

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