The Trump administration is moving to finalize a rule that would relax companies’ liability for killing birds, after publishing an analysis finding that the rule change would not cause significant environmental harm.
The move comes despite objections from former federal officials and many scientists, who say it likely will result in the unnecessary deaths of millions more birds.
The Washington Post reports:
The administration, which is racing to lock in a series of regulatory changes before President-elect Joe Biden takes office, can now publish a final rule modifying the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s interpretation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act as soon as Dec. 28.
The act prohibits unauthorized “take” of protected bird species — regulatory-speak for hunting, killing, capturing, selling or otherwise hurting the animals. For three years, officials at the Interior Department have sought to exclude accidental deaths from the “take” definition, shielding energy companies, construction firms and land developers from prosecution if their operations “incidentally” kill birds.
Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Brian Hires said in a statement that the goal was to “provide legal certainty for the public” about what types of hazards to birds are permitted, The Post reported.
But the analysis found that the Trump administration’s rule would “likely result in increased bird mortality,” because it would reduce the incentive for companies to take precautions to prevent birds from being harmed by their operations.
If finalized, the rollback will have the greatest benefit for electric utilities and oil and gas companies, which before 2018 were subject to an average of 46 incidental take investigations every year. According to data compiled by the Fish and Wildlife Service, about 32 million birds are killed annually by colliding with power lines, getting electrocuted at power poles and drowning in uncovered oil pits.
Conservationists decried the move as legally flawed and argued the rule would undermine industry’s incentive to take precautions that could avoid needless bird deaths. Former interior officials from both parties, who have served under the past eight presidents, have urged the administration not to change the law’s interpretation.
Image credit: Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour / Public Domain