By Matthew Brown and John Flesher The Associated Press
BILLINGS, MONT. » The Biden administration on Monday reversed a policy imposed under former President Donald Trump that drastically weakened the government’s power to enforce a century-old law that protects most U.S. bird species.
Trump ended criminal prosecutions against companies responsible for bird deaths that could have been prevented.
The move halted enforcement practices under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in place for decades — resulting most notably in a $100 million settlement by energy company BP after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill killed about 100,000 birds.
A federal judge in New York in August struck down the Trump administration’s legal rationale for changing how the bird treaty was enforced.
But the administration did not abandon its policy, rejecting concerns that many more birds would die and remaining adamant that the law had been wielded inappropriately to penalize accidental bird deaths.
Interior spokesman Tyler Cherry said the Trump policy “overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity.”
Cherry said in a statement that the agency plans to come up with new standards “that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry.”
Details on the new standards were not immediately made public, but advocacy groups on behalf of the tens of millions of bird watchers in the U.S. said Monday that they want a permitting system to more closely regulate the hundreds of millions of birds that die annually in collisions with wind turbines, after landing in oil pits and from other industrial causes.
While industries have taken steps to deal bird deaths — such as putting nets over oil pits and marking transmission equipment to prevent collisions — some individual companies don’t deal adequately with the problem and there is no uniform approach.
“There really had been a lot of collaboration and a fair amount of consensus about what best management practices looked like for most major industries,” said Sarah Greenberger, a senior vice president with the Audubon Society, a bird advocacy group. “There was a lot of common ground, which is why the moves from the last administration were so unnecessary.”