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: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development Senate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign MORE (D-Md.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandNow is the time for a US data protection agency The Hill's Campaign Report: Warren up, Bloomberg down after brutal debate Ginsburg, accepting lifetime achievement award, urges working fathers to take an active role in kids' lives MORE (D-N.Y.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperWhere do we go from here? Conservation can show the way Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge EPA will regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water 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 chairman after Africa trip: US military drawdown would have 'real and lasting negative consequences' Overnight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report 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.