Biden Administration Reverses Trump Rule That Weakened Protections of Migratory Birds

Kimberly Redmond  |

Image: Peregrine falcon. Source: Jasmin777 / Pixabay

The Biden administration has reversed a policy imposed under former president Donald Trump that would have rolled back protections for migratory birds.

Trump’s policy, which was signed during his final days in office, sought to weaken the government’s power to enforce the century-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act by removing penalties for companies that accidentally kill birds. 

It was set to go into effect on Feb. 8, but the new administration delayed its enactment to allow more time for public comments.

On Monday, Interior Department spokesman Tyler Cherry said the agency plans to "develop common sense standards that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry." 

Enacted in 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was prompted by declines in U.S. bird populations due to hunting and poaching and has protected more than 1,000 different species of birds. 

The most high-profile enforcement case under the law led to a $20 billion settlement by energy company BP after 100,000 birds were killed during a 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Trump’s 11th hour actions formalized his administration’s reinterpretation of the MBTA that scaled back the law to no longer fine or prosecute companies whose actions cause the death of birds – as long as it was not intentional. In August 2020, a federal judge invalidated the rule changes put in place, but Trump’s administration maintained that the law punished companies.

On Monday, Cherry said the former president’s order “overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity.” 

The oil and gas industry has long sought to be shielded from liability for unintentionally killing birds in oil spills, toxic waste ponds, power line electrocutions and other environmental disasters. 

According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, industry sources and other human activities – such as oil pits, wind turbines, vehicle strikes and glass building collisions – kill an estimated 542 million to 1.4 billion birds annually, out of an overall 7.2 billion birds in North America.

Industry groups backed Trump’s policy but have expressed a willingness to work with the new president.

Following the reversal of the Trump rule, the American Petroleum Institute called for “policies that support environmental protection while providing regulatory certainty,” while the Edison Electric Institute said it would be cooperative as regulators drew up new rules. 

Environmental advocacy groups saw Monday’s announcement as an important step toward restoring the MBTA as a key safeguard for the species it covers. 

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Jordan Rutter, director of public relations for the American Bird Conservancy, said Monday’s announcement “gives us all hope for the future of strong, upheld bird legislation” and said the “birds definitely had a win today.” 

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Source: Equities News

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