In a last-ditch effort to protect fossil fuel companies, the Trump administration has reversed a conservation law that prohibits such companies from killing migratory birds accidentally. Fossil fuel industries have long been seeking the reversal of the law, which is part of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The law has been protecting migratory birds from deaths caused by disasters like oil spills for over 100 years.
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The rollback now means that the federal government will not fine or prosecute companies that lead to the death of birds through their actions. Accidental environmental disasters such as oil spills and electrocutions could kill thousands of birds without any implications, as long as the cause of death was not intended to kill the birds, even if the company was conducting illegal activity.
“This rule simply reaffirms the original meaning and intent of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by making it clear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not prosecute landowners, industry and other individuals for accidentally killing a migratory bird,” said David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior.
However, environmentalists view the issue differently. Eric Glitzenstein, director of litigation at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the move is cruel and harmful to biodiversity.
“It’s horrendous,” Glitzenstein said. “It will just have a really overwhelming negative effect on our already dwindling bird populations.”
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was originally put in place to protect birds from poachers and hunters. The act made it illegal for any person to hunt, capture or kill birds or take their nests or eggs from certain listed species without a permit.
Although the act did not clearly mention the accidental killing of birds, it has been instrumental in protecting birds from the actions of fossil fuel companies. The act was used under the Obama administration in prosecuting seven oil companies in North Dakota for killing 28 birds. The same act was instrumental in a $100 million settlement against BP for the killing of 1 million birds in the Deepwater Horizon Spill.
Image via NPS/Patrick Myers