Trump Administration Eases Protections For Migratory Birds

Aug 14, 2018

You may not have noticed, but a few months ago the Trump Administration stopped using a century-old law to fine industries when birds are accidentally killed by oil spills, power lines or wind farms.

However, conservationists and bird lovers aren't taking it sitting down.

“It really represents one of the most significant rollbacks in bird protections in our history,” Erik Schneider, a policy analyst with the National Audubon Society, said.

According to Schneider, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 was used to hold industry accountable specifically when it came to the accidental deaths of birds.

He points to the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon tragedies, where lots of birds died and the companies were fined millions of dollars.

But late last year, the U.S. Interior Department took a second look at the law. They decided it would only protect birds that are killed or captured by poachers, not ones that die incidentally from uncovered oil pits, wind turbines or massive oil spills.

Schneider called the second look senseless and unnecessary.

“This isn’t something that has caused serious burden for industry. Unfortunately I think we’re seeing a variety of actions that aim to reduce perceived burdens on the energy industry and I think this plays into that.”

The Audubon Society has filed suit, but the American Petroleum Institute has applauded the government’s reinterpretation of the law. They say it was used overzealously to hurt oil and gas companies.

The new interpretation, however, doesn’t mean industry is completely off the hook. They can still receive financial penalties for massive oil spills or hazardous substance releases under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program.

That program, however, takes a broader look at environmental impacts and doesn’t address bird deaths specifically.

The U.S. Interior Department was unable to comment before deadline.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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