Legislative Efforts To Stop Proposed Vessel Speed Restriction Emerge In Congress

Jason Graziadei •

Hazlegrove 4081 1
The Steamship Authority's M/V Eagle and M/V Iyanough in Nantucket Harbor. Photo by Cary Hazlegrove | NantucketStock.com

Nantucket may have some unexpected allies in its fight to prevent the proposed marine speed restrictions under consideration by the federal government that are meant to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales but could have dire impacts on the island’s economy.

Several legislative efforts have been launched in the U.S. Congress to forestall or nullify the proposed “North Atlantic right whale vessel strike reduction rule,” but none of them were filed by lawmakers representing Nantucket or Massachusetts.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations’ Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee on Tuesday released its appropriation bill for the 2024-25 fiscal year, and it includes a rider that would prohibit funding for the enforcement of the speed restriction rule.

“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, nor any part of the Department of Commerce, to enforce any vessel speed restriction for the North Atlantic Right Whale that was not in place prior to January 20, 2021,” reads section 620 of the appropriations bill. It was not immediately clear which lawmaker was responsible for the rider.

Meanwhile, two bills have been filed in Congress - one in the U.S. House and another in the U.S. Senate - seeking to forestall the implementation of the proposed speed restrictions “until mitigation protocols are fully developed and deployed.”

The Senate bill, sponsored by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arkansas Senator John Boozman, would “prohibit the issuance of an interim or final rule that amends, updates, modifies, or replaces the North Atlantic Right Whale vessel strike reduction rule until mitigation protocols are fully developed and deployed.”

In the U.S. House of Representatives, a nearly identical bill has been sponsored by Georgia Rep. Buddy Carter.

“We all want to protect the right whale from extinction, but this is the wrong way to do it,” Carter told the Georgia Recorder. “Before implementing a sweeping rule that will kneecap small businesses up and down the East Coast, including 27,000 in Georgia alone, we must use all of the technological advancements at our disposal so that right whales and business owners can thrive together.”

While the legislative efforts have not originated in Massachusetts, they represent another avenue to oppose a rule the town believes could have a “devastating and life-altering impact on Nantucket” and an opportunity to build a broader coalition.

​​The rule, proposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect the endangered North Atlantic Right whale, would restrict most vessels over 35 feet to traveling at a maximum of 10 knots (about 11.5mph) from November 1st to May 30th. This would prevent all high-speed boat travel to and from Nantucket during that time, likely forcing the closure of Hy-Line Cruises and greatly decreasing the island’s ability to access needed goods and services from the mainland. Under the new regulation, even slow-speed boats would take longer to cross the sound.

Noaa speed restriction map 2024 update

The regulation is designed to protect the North Atlantic right whale, which has been the subject of much debate surrounding the development of offshore wind turbines in the region. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believes the rule is necessary to reduce lethal vessel strikes on right whales and help the recovery of the species. While the species is known to frequent nearby areas, including Cape Cod Bay and areas southeast of the island, not a single right whale has been spotted in Nantucket Sound or Vineyard Sound by the crews of the Steamship Authority or Hy-Line Cruises in decades.

While the town of Nantucket has stepped up its efforts to fight against the proposed speed restriction - issuing an “urgent” plea to citizens to write letters to lawmakers - and both the Steamship Authority and Hy-Line Cruises have embarked on their own lobbying efforts, the legislative efforts may have the best chance at forestalling its implementation.

The proposed speed restrictions to protect North Atlantic right whales have been pending since 2022, but there is new urgency around the issue after NOAA recently recommended to the Office of Management and Budget that the rule be implemented, moving the proposal forward to the final stage in the federal review process.

Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current News