Report: Trump Admin Proposes Rolling Back Federal Protection For Migratory Birds
The Trump administration moved on Thursday to eliminate punishments for companies whose actions kill migratory birds “incidentally,” The New York Times reported, arguing that businesses should not fear prosecution over accidentally killing birds.
The new regulation comes from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, housed within the Department of Interior, and would cement previous guidance first issued in 2017.
Making the rule change would significantly undercut the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and endanger millions of birds, conservation groups said. The threat of fines has served to encourage industries to take steps to protect birds, they say. Without that incentive, companies will be less inclined to take such measures voluntarily — such as “affixing red lights on communication towers.”
But industry leaders and administration officials disagree, arguing that businesses will continue to take precautions without the threat of prosecution. Taking away such penalties “would bring regulatory certainty and eliminate legal disputes over whether the law covers birds killed unintentionally, whether from an oil spill or the blade of a wind turbine,” they say.
This outcome does not appear likely, however, as the The Times found that since the 2017 change in guidance, “the Trump administration has discouraged local governments and businesses from taking simple precautionary measures to protect birds, and federal wildlife officials have all but stopped investigating most bird deaths.”
Eight states and six conservation groups have filed a lawsuit to block the rule change, and just last week, a bipartisan group of former Interior Department officials filed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit.
If the rule change goes into effect, an incident like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill — which killed hundreds of thousands of birds and cost BP $100 million for criminal violations under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act — would carry no penalty.
The proposal would strip penalties from any act that results in the death of migratory birds so long as the action did not intend to kill them — including illegal acts, The Times reported.
For example, a farmer who sprayed a banned pesticide that killed birds would not be held liable as long as the birds were not the “intended target.”
There will be a 45-day public comment period when the rule change appears in the Federal Register on Monday.