The Biden administration has reversed a Trump-era regulation that allowed companies to kill migratory birds without consequences. In the last month of Trump’s presidency, an interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) allowed the killing of birds on accidental terms. This meant that fossil fuel companies and other industries would not be held accountable for bird deaths caused by their actions.
To protect the birds, Biden administration officials stepped in to delay the interpretation from taking place by reopening it for public comment. Now, there are plans in place for a replacement.
The interpretation adopted by the Trump administration was first used by Daniel Jorjani in December 2017. Jorjani, a top lawyer at the Department of the Interior, issued an interpretation that protected companies from fines in case of unintentional killing of migratory birds. In his interpretation of the MBTA, he argued that the law was only meant to protect species from intentional hunting, capturing or killing. Despite the fact that the argument by Jorjani was rejected by a federal court, the Trump administration still went ahead to adopt it.
Those who supported the Trump administration’s interpretation argue that it was meant to offer certainty to the law. The then-director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Aurelia Skipwith, said the regulation was put in place so that industry players can “operate without the fear and uncertainty that the unintentional consequences of their actions will be prosecuted.”
Although most people expected the Biden administration to dismiss the interpretation, Interior Department spokesperson Tyler Cherry has added that, “The Department will also reconsider its interpretation of the MBTA to develop common-sense standards that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry.”
The over 100-year-old law makes it illegal to capture, kill or hunt migratory birds without a permit. While the law does not categorically state accidental killings will be penalized, the government has previously used it to fine actions by companies that lead to bird deaths, such as the BP oil spill in 2010. If a new interpretation will be issued, it should seek to give clarity while still protecting migratory birds from reckless actions.
Image via Kranich17