Trump administration will no longer enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in cases of incidental bird deaths.
The decision was condemned by environmental groups and celebrated by the energy industry, which had lobbied the Trump administration to reverse an interpretation by the Obama administration that the MBTA could be used to protect birds from accidental or incidental killings.
“Christmas came early for bird killers. By acting to end industries’ responsibility to avoid millions of gruesome bird deaths per year, the White House is parting ways with more than 100 years of conservation legacy,” said David O’Neill, the National Audubon Society’s chief conservation officer.
“Gutting the MBTA runs counter to decades of legal precedent as well as basic conservative principles — for generations Republicans and Democrats have embraced both conservation and economic growth and now this administration is pitting them against each other," he added.
On the other side of the issue, Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance, said her organization applauded the Department of the Interior’s decision overturning "a last-minute maneuver by the Obama Administration just 10 days before President Trump took office.
She said in a statement that the decision restored the rule of law and "the MBTA was abused by the Obama administration, in this case to apply Endangered Species Act-type liability for impacts to birds that are not listed as threatened or endangered. Those restrictions that reduce jobs and economic opportunity are justified when birds are truly threatened or endangered and any impact can threaten their survival, but not for species that are not."
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of the most important conservation laws in the United States.
Congress passed the MBTA in 1918 in response to public outcry over the mass slaughter of birds, which threatened egrets and other species with extirpation.
The law prohibits killing or harming birds except under certain conditions, including managed hunting seasons for game species.
And the law protects more than 1,000 bird species in part because it requires industries implement best management practices — like covering tar pits and marking transmission lines.
Some figures on industrial causes of bird mortality in the United States:
• Power lines kill up to 175 million birds per year.
• Communication towers kill up to 50 million birds per year.
• Oil waste pits kill 500,000 to 1 million birds per year.
• Gas flares: Audubon says there are no reliable mortality estimates, but just one incident, in 2013 in Canada, resulted in the incineration of an estimated 7,500 birds.
Audubon said it would engage 1.2 million members to defend the MBTA from the effort to roll back protections.