Reversing a rule initiated in President Obama’s final weeks, the Trump administration posted a legal memo that stated that it will not seek charges against companies that accidentally kill migratory birds.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which is almost a hundred years old, protects birds by requiring businesses to guard against hazards that could harm them. In recent years, BP paid $100 million in fines for violating the act, and Duke Energy was found to be in criminal violation of the act. In one of its last rulings before leaving office, the Obama administration announced that the government could under the law prosecute companies for killing birds even if they do so accidentally. Though the new Trump administration suspended the application of the ruling almost immediately after taking office. Now they say that the law only applies to purposely killing migratory birds.
Under the MBTA, the government could seek 6 months in prison and a 15,000 fine for each bird killed or wounded by the actions of a company, but the Trump administration believes that this places way too much burden on businesses. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in excess of 30 million birds accidentally die every year in collisions with structures such as towers and electrical lines, and many more die in turbines and pits.
Conservation groups took exception to the new ruling. The National Audubon Society, which believes the MBTA is one of the most important conservation laws on the books, thinks that the new interpretation not only violates the intent of the treaty but it also ignores decades of long-standing legal precedent. David O’Neill, who is the chief conservation officer of the society, says that the ruling disincentivizes business from working with them to come up with solutions to the problem.
Another conservation group, the National Wildlife Foundation, lamented how the law went from being too broadly interpreted under the Obama administration to being too narrowly interpreted under the current administration.
Industry groups, though, applauded the ruling. The National Ocean Industries Association believes that the previsous interpretation created lots of uncertainty and that the current one meant the businesses would not have worry about being threatned with prosecuation over what they believe are essentially legal activities.