A bird watcher looks at starlings. Getty Images.
The Interior Department on Monday revoked a Trump administration policy that would have undercut a century-old law protecting migratory birds.
The move strengthens federal regulators’ authority to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a 1918 law that allows the government to prosecute polluters whose actions are responsible for the deaths of about 1,100 protected bird species.
An Interior spokesperson said Monday the department rescinded a 2017 legal opinion from then-Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani that held the department couldn’t enforce the law unless the bird deaths were intentional.
The spokesperson said that interpretation “overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity.”
A federal judge rejected the Jorjani policy last year, writing in a forceful opinion that it plainly contradicted the migratory bird law.
In the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, his Interior Department sought to formalize the policy with a new rule that was originally set to take effect last month before the Biden administration postponed its start date to Monday.
The Biden administration plans to officially revoke that rule with a new proposed rule set to be published “in the coming days,” the spokesperson said.
The department will also consider its interpretation of the law and “develop common sense standards that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry,” the spokesperson said.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was used as part of the enforcement action that led to BP’s settlement for the 2009 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. Environmentalists say it’s a key deterrent for companies that may otherwise be less diligent about environmental protections.
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