Donald Trump and his Republican allies are turning over every element of our government and governance to lobbyists and big industry. A Big Pharma executive put in charge of Health and Human Services, an anti-public school billionaire crusader in charge of the nation’s public schools and on and on. In another big gift to big polluters, the Trump administration has rolled back elements of the 1918 Migratory Bird Act that have been in place for nearly 50 years and is credited with helping hundreds of species survive and thrive since then. They’ve “re-interpreted” parts of the Act to help their pollution-pumping friends. From Audubon:
In December, the Department of the Interior released an interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that eliminates its ability to hold industries accountable for bird deaths. Reversing decades of practice by administrations under both political parties, this legal opinion drastically limits the law and puts hundreds of species of birds at greater risk.
This attack on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act comes at a time when we are celebrating the Year of the Bird, honoring the one-hundredth anniversary of this visionary law. Passed in 1918 with leadership from Audubon and chapters across the nation, the MBTA protects nearly all of our country’s native birds from being killed without a permit.
For decades, the law has been applied to protect birds from industrial impacts as well. Millions of birds die from preventable causes such as oil waste pits, oil spills, electric transmission lines, and more. The MBTA provides a critical incentive for industries to implement common sense practices that save birds’ lives. It also ensures that responsible parties are held accountable for events that kill significant numbers of birds. For instance, if this interpretation had been in place after the Gulf oil spill, BP would have been off the hook for killing one million birds and would not have been required to pay a $100 million fine that is helping restore bird habitat.
Wildlife officials agree. Seventeen conservation experts who have formerly worked for the Department of the Interior, both Democratic and Republican alike, have banded together to send a public plea to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to reconsider these disastrous actions.
We are all conservation professionals who have formerly served the Department of the Interior, from 1971 to 2017: Deputy Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Directors, and Migratory Bird Conservation Chiefs. We are former Senate-confirmed political appointees, of Republican and Democratic Presidents, and we are former career civil servants. We are, each and all, very concerned by the Interior Department’s December 22, 2017 announcement of a new legal memorandum (M-37050) reinterpreting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.This legal opinion is contrary to the long-standing interpretation by every administration (Republican and Democrat) since at least the1970’s, who held that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act strictly prohibits the unregulated killing of birds. This law was among the first U.S. environmental laws, setting this nation and continent on the enviable path to conserving our natural resources. It was passed to implement the first of four bilateral treaties with countries with which we share migratory bird populations (Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia). Its intent, and your obligation in enforcing it, is to conserve migratory bird populations. Therefore, we respectfully request that you suspend this ill-conceived opinion, and convene a bipartisan group of experts to recommend a consensus and sensible path forward. We would be pleased to work with you, involving the public, toward this end.
This is a new, contrived legal standard that creates a huge loophole in the MBTA, allowing companies to engage in activities that routinely kill migratory birds so long as they were not intending that their operations would “render an animal subject to human control.” Indeed, as your solicitor’s opinion necessarily acknowledged, several district and circuit courts have soundly rejected the narrow reading of the law that your Department is now embracing.We recognize that, at the margin, reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which prosecutions under the MBTA are appropriate for activities that are not intended to kill birds, but which are reasonably likely, and indeed, quite likely to kill them. That is why, over the course of our collective careers, significant progress has been made in defining the limits of this law through refined interpretations, court decisions, and common sense. Over the years, career professionals and political leadership in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Department of the Interior, and Department of Justice have adapted to ensure that the enforcement of this law fairly balances the goal of economic progress with the impact of that progress on bird populations.Birds are, quite literally, the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.” How birds fare in the world indicates how all wildlife and habitat, and by extension human populations, will fare.
You can read their full letter below. Who is this serving? Big polluters who want big profit at any cost. Even if it kills the canary in the coal mine.