Energy & Environment

Trump plan to limit bird protections would have ‘negative’ effect on migratory species: government study

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The Trump administration’s plan to ease penalties on companies that accidentally kill birds would have a “likely negative” effect on migratory birds, according to a new government analysis.

The study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, released Friday, comes as the administration moves forward with lifting protections that have been in place for more than a century.

The administration’s proposal would punish oil and gas and construction companies only if they intentionally kill birds, ending the practice of penalties for firms that “incidentally” kill them.

The environmental analysis of the proposal noted that the changes would provide regulatory certainty for businesses and that companies would be less likely to take measures to protect birds unless they are forced to by law.

“As the legal certainty increases, fewer entities would likely implement best practices … resulting in increased bird mortality,” the report said. “This effect is reduced where best practices are required by other state and federal laws.”

Efforts to finalize the proposal come as bird populations are rapidly decreasing. The U.S. and Canada have lost some 3 billion birds since 1970, a decline researchers attribute to pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change.

Moving forward with the proposal would cement an order currently in place from the Department of the Interior that limits the reach of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which the agency has argued is 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.

Environmentalists criticized the Fish and Wildlife study.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the analysis “a cynical effort” to justify a policy that is “clearly bad for birds, clearly cruel and inconsistent with the MBTA in every way.”

“What environmental analyses are supposed to do is take a hard look before you do something. And if it seems like environmental consequences are too much and don’t balance out, you’re not supposed to do it,” Greenwald said.

Tags birds Center for Biological Diversity Climate change Department of the Interior environmental regulations Fish and Wildlife Service migration migratory birds penalties
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