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Biden administration won't defend Trump-era relaxation of bird protections

Biden administration won't defend Trump-era relaxation of bird protections
© David McNew/Getty Images

The Biden administration has formally dropped a case seeking to uphold a Trump-era memo easing penalties for companies that accidentally kill birds.

By withdrawing the prior administration's appeal, an August decision striking down the 2017 memo will go unchallenged. 

The memo in question scaled back the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which for over 100 years offered protections to 1,000 different types of birds, instigating penalties for companies whose projects or infrastructure harm them.

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But a legal opinion from former Department of the Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani advised punishing the oil and gas industry, construction companies and others only if their work intentionally kills birds, ending the practice of punishing companies that “incidentally” kill birds.

The August decision from U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni began with a quote from "To Kill A Mockingbird" before determining that “the Jorjani opinion’s interpretation runs counter to the purpose of the MBTA to protect migratory bird populations.”

“The opinion freezes the MBTA in time as a hunting-regulation statute, preventing it from addressing modern threats to migrating bird populations,” she wrote in a decision vacating the opinion, calling it “an unpersuasive interpretation of the MBTA’s unambiguous prohibition on killing protected birds.”

The decision was cheered by environmentalists, particularly with recent research finding that North America has lost 3 billion birds since 1970.

“Left unchecked, the Trump administration’s attempted elimination of federal protections would have jeopardized billions of birds. The Biden administration made the right call in dropping this case,” Jason Rylander, senior counsel with Defenders of Wildlife, said in a release.