Democratic senators press Interior official over proposed changes to migratory bird protections

Democratic senators press Interior official over proposed changes to migratory bird protections
© Greg Nash

Democratic senators pressed top Interior Department official Rob Wallace during a Wednesday Senate hearing on the Trump administration’s easing of a law protecting migratory birds. 

Wallace, the assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, was questioned about migratory birds by Sens. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' GOP blames environmental efforts, but Democrats see public health problems with stimulus Blame game heats up as Senate motion fails MORE (D-Md.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandLawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Progressive advocates propose T 'green stimulus' plan Juan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal MORE (D-N.Y.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperDemocrat calls on EPA to withdraw 'secret science' rule Blame game heats up as Senate motion fails Democratic senators, attorneys general slam proposal to roll back protections for birds MORE (D-Del.) during an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing. 

The administration’s proposal would apply penalties under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) only to causing intentional harm to birds but not accidental harm. 

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Van Hollen asked whether the new interpretation of the law would have prevented the U.S. from getting damages from BP for the deaths of birds after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. 

“How does it further the mission of the Fish and Wildlife Service to take away the ability to fine a company like BP when its disasters kill mass birds?” he said. 

“It was the concern about that strict liability, that criminal statute is the only option [for] enforcement that that act provides,” Wallace replied. 

Gillibrand asked Wallace what the service is doing to improve protections for migratory birds “and address the existential threat they face due to the impacts of climate change.”

Wallace pointed to best practices working groups that he said work with industries to minimize their impacts on migratory birds. 

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Carper questioned Wallace about how the administration reconciles the changes to the MBTA with the administration’s commitment to expand opportunities for sports hunters who hunt such birds. 

“We’re not going away from this debate. We just could not criminalize such a broad activity,” Wallace replied. 

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Overnight Defense: Stimulus bill has .5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements Senate panel switches to 'paper hearings' amid coronavirus pandemic MORE (R-Okla.) appeared to support the proposed change, raising concerns about how long it took to complete infrastructure projects due to compliance with past rules. 

“Hopefully that’s going to be changed,” he said.