Democratic senators, attorneys general slam proposal to roll back protections for birds

Democratic senators, attorneys general slam proposal to roll back protections for birds
© Greg Nash

The Department of the Interior heard major opposition Friday to its plans to roll back penalties for companies that kill birds, receiving letters from 23 Democratic senators and 11 attorneys general slamming the rule. 

The Trump administration is expected to finalize a proposal in the coming weeks that would punish the oil and gas industry, construction companies and others only if their work intentionally kills birds, ending the practice of penalizing those that “incidentally” kill birds.

The rule would finalize a guidance already in place that the attorneys general argue “has significantly increased the threat of death and injury to migratory birds.”

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They say the rule is counter to the underpinnings of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which has been in place since 1918 and that currently protects about 1,000 kinds of birds. 

The senators argue the rule comes at a critical time, when bird populations have fallen nearly 30 percent in North America since 1970.

“The proposed rule will undermine decades of conservation work,” lawmakers wrote in a letter led by Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperThe conservative case for phasing out hydrofluorocarbons Democrat asks for probe of EPA's use of politically appointed lawyers Overnight Energy: Study links coronavirus mortality to air pollution exposure | Low-income, minority households pay more for utilities: report MORE (D-Del.). “The rule also presents a false choice between regulatory certainty and implementing the MBTA.”

Interior did not respond to request for comment but has said in the past that the punishments under the law are too severe.

“Interpreting the MBTA to apply to incidental or accidental actions hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive actions, threatening up to six months in jail and a $15,000 penalty for each and every bird injured or killed,” Daniel Jorjani, Interior’s solicitor, wrote when the proposal was first drafted. 

The 11 states that signed the attorney general letter are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Washington.