GAO: Congress can use CRA to undo whale drilling safeguards

By Heather Richards | 07/09/2024 01:36 PM EDT

The endangered Rice’s whale has sparked a fierce political debate over offshore drilling regulations.

A Rice's whale in the Gulf of Mexico.

A Rice's whale is shown in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. Marine Mammal Commission

Congress’ watchdog has concluded that an Interior Department advisory to offshore drillers protecting an endangered whale qualifies as a “rule” and so should have been run by lawmakers.

The finding from the Government Accountability Office means a 2023 notice to lessees (NTL) laying out voluntary restrictions on oil companies in the Rice’s whale potential habitat should be submitted for congressional review.

GAO’s conclusion opens the door for a Congressional Review Act resolution to undo the guidance, which has been criticized by several prominent Republicans. Congress has passed several resolutions against Biden administration rules, all which President Joe Biden has vetoed.


“The NTL is a rule for CRA purposes because it meets the [Administrative Procedure Act] definition of a rule,” said Shirley Jones, a GAO lawyer, in an email. “The NTL is subject to CRA’s requirement that it be submitted to Congress before it can take effect. That also means it could face a CRA resolution of disapproval.”