Senate Democrats are pushing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to retract a legal memo stating that accidental bird deaths cannot be prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
The memo, issued in December, reversed a decades old policy of prosecuting companies that unintentionally killed birds protected under the law. Energy companies paid the brunt of fines due to birds dying from development such as wind turbines, solar panels and power lines.
Democrats on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works wrote to Zinke Wednesday.
“For the 1,000 species of birds protected by the MBTA, the menace of market hunting and the plume trade have since disappeared, but the threats to birds have not,” the letter, led by Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tom Carper of Delaware, states. “The rapid industrialization of the of the country in the 20th century created new threats, as millions of waterfowl, raptors and songbirds began to die tragic deaths after being trapped in oil pits, electrocuted on power lines and more.”
The Department of the Interior (DOI) decision to end fines for accidental killings falls in line with previous court rulings made during the Obama administration. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals criticized former President Barack Obama’s implementation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in 2015.
“If the MBTA prohibits all acts or omissions that ‘directly’ kill birds, where bird deaths are ‘foreseeable,’ then all owners of big windows, communication towers, wind turbines, solar energy farms, cars, cats, and even church steeples may be found guilty of violating the MBTA,” the court ruling states.
Prosecutors under Obama used discretion in fining companies for MBTA violations, only pursuing those deemed the worst offenders.
President Donald Trump’s DOI held that whether fines are handed out prudently or not is not the issue.
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