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.
Industry groups including the American Petroleum Institute supported the Trump policy, but since President Joe Biden came into office they have expressed willingness to work with the Democrat. The petroleum trade group said Monday it will work “in support of policies that support environmental protection while providing regulatory certainty.”
More than 1,000 North American bird species are covered by the treaty.