A more than 100-year-old law protecting migratory birds from unintentional deaths by oil and gas companies and construction crews could be weakened by the Trump administration “as early as Thursday,” The New York Times reported Thursday.
The Times said the administration is planning to eliminate the “threat of punishment” provided by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 to companies and organizations that unintentionally kill birds while performing their work. The new rule would solidify a legal opinion the Interior Department released in 2017, the paper said, which argued “only actions explicitly intended to kill birds should be forbidden under the federal law.”
The new rule would mean that deaths of birds from an oil slick or by the distribution of illegal pesticides would not lead to financial penalties, according to the Times.
The paper said it will be “difficult” for the administration to complete the new rule by the November presidential election, but that the department “has indicated it will push aggressively to do so.”
Unlike the 2017 legal opinion, which can be easily reversed by a different administration, the proposed rule would be harder to overturn by a succeeding administration.
The proposed rule adds to a long and growing list of environmental protection rollbacks by the administration during the last three years. In 2019, the Interior Department proposed significant changes to the Endangered Species Act which critics fear would weaken its implementation, allow for more oil and gas drilling, and limit how much regulators consider the impacts of the climate crisis.
According to the Times, the 1918 act prohibits the killing of birds, nests or eggs “from listed species without a permit” and that in the 1970s, officials “used the act to prosecute and fine companies up to $15,000 per bird for accidental deaths on power lines, in oil pits, in wind turbines and by other industrial hazards.”
The paper said BP agreed to pay $100 million under the act after thousands of birds were killed during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Under the 2017 opinion and the proposed rule, however, the disaster would not have led to “criminal liability” under the act because the bird deaths were accidental.
Bob Dreher, the senior vice president of conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, told the Times that his group plans to fight the forthcoming rule. Other conservation groups and several states had previously sued to block the 2017 legal opinion, the paper reported.