North Atlantic right whales can grow to 55 feet in length and weigh 70 tons, but that hardly makes them invincible. Because they have a habit of calving amid shipping lanes off the Atlantic coast, the whales sometimes perish in collisions — no small matter when there are fewer than 400 of them left in existence. Accordingly, in 2006 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) sought to protect these endangered cetaceans by requiring speed limits for ships passing through critical areas at key times of year-in essence setting up the marine equivalent of school crossing zones.
But if science is a right whale, the Bush administration is a container ship doing 25 knots. The White House stalled, and continues to stall, the NMFS regulation, and now we know why. Behind the scenes, it has been indulging in opportunistic attacks on whale science that echoed those by the shipping industry, especially the World Shipping Council, a trade group that has lobbied heavily against the NMFS rule.
Last year, as the Fisheries Service sought to impose a 10 knot seasonal speed limit in certain areas, documents exposed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and the Union of Concerned Scientists (ucs) show, several White House offices began challenging the seemingly indisputable fact that the faster a ship is going, the greater the danger it poses to whales. This conclusion is rooted in scientific observation, basic physics, and of course common sense-but that didn't stop the president's Council of Economic Advisers from undertaking its own highly selective reanalysis of whale mortality data. (Government fisheries experts called the book-cooking exercise "biased" and "unlike any formal sensitivity analysis NMFS biometricians are familiar with.") The scientists also had to answer to the veep's office: Cheney's staff questioned whether it's not the speed of the ship that counts, but its size. (To see how little sense this makes, compare being hit by a Prius at 60 miles per hour to being hit by a bus at the same speed-either way, your survival chances are basically nil.)
The full story is available here.
And people wonder why I'm cynical.