Environmental groups are on edge after the Trump administration announced that heavy industry will no longer be penalized for accidentally killing migratory birds.
Hailed by industry as a groundbreaking move toward deregulation, the decision is stoking concern among those keen on preserving nature.
According to Reuters, the announcement was made within a legal memo from the United States Department of the Interior last week. It’s a reversal which does away with a longstanding agency practice which was codified by the outgoing Obama administration.
Despite the controversy, the cause of chemical plants and heavy industry received a welcome boost from several appeals courts. The Department of the Interior only made its decision after sections of the judiciary agreed that the government had interpreted a century-old law “aimed at protecting birds too broadly.”
“Christmas came early for bird-killers,” said David O’Neill, chief conservation officer for the National Audubon Association. “The White House is parting ways with more than 100 years of conservation legacy.”
Reuters reports that the move is the latest in several taken by the Trump administration “to weaken environmental protections viewed as burdensome to industry, including shrinking the size of two national monuments in Utah and reconsidering protections for the Greater Sage Grouse, a Western bird whose population has dropped precipitously amid threats to its habitat.”
The memo released by the Department of the Interior said that the 1918 law upon which the Obama-era directive was based had been grossly misinterpreted. They claim the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is only applicable to offenders who intentionally kill migratory birds – like poachers – rather than energy companies and businesses which kill them “incidentally.”
“Interpreting the MBTA to apply to incidental or accidental actions hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive activities, threatening up to six months in jail and a $15,000 penalty for each and ever bird injured or killed,” explains the memo.
An NPR article on the memo notes that it was written by the Department of the Interior’s principal deputy solicitor, Daniel Jorjani – a longtime adviser to libertarian billionaire Charles Koch.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 30 million birds die each year in powerline collisions, run-ins with communications towers, and “hundreds of thousands more in oil pits and wind turbines.”
Collin O’Mara, president of the National Wildlife Federation, told The Washington Post that neither the Obama nor Trump administrations had gotten it right – before, the law was too broad, and now, he says, it’s far too narrow.
“We’re seeing the whipsaw from one extreme to the other,” O’Mara told the paper.
“One year in, there’s been no balance. If the choice is between energy and conservation, energy always wins.”