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Groups Slam Trump Admin. Move to Weaken Bird Protections

Birds caught in oil spills would no longer trigger fines for oil companies if the Trump administration finalizes its proposed changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. (USFWS)
Birds caught in oil spills would no longer trigger fines for oil companies if the Trump administration finalizes its proposed changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. (USFWS)
January 31, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Conservation groups are speaking out against a move yesterday by the Trump administration to remove penalties for companies whose business activities incidentally kill birds.

The U.S. Interior Department is finalizing a change to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, or MBTA, first announced two years ago. It removes penalties for bird deaths considered "incidental take," even in cases of such gross negligence as a massive oil spill.

Bob Dreher, senior vice president for conservation programs with Defenders of Wildlife, says this will lead to many more bird deaths.

"We already have evidence that businesses and federal agencies have turned their backs on conservation of birds because of the administration's policy," says Dreher. "This may accelerate that. You may see more and more businesses saying, 'Birds will be killed, but that's OK - go ahead.'"

In the past, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act gave companies incentives to prevent bird deaths with proactive measures, whether it's placing nets over oil pits or making power lines and wind turbines more visible to birds. The administration says the changes would ease onerous restrictions on commercial activity and infrastructure projects.

California Rep. Alan Lowenthal - D-Long Beach - has cosponsored a bill to restore the MBTA to its pre-Trump interpretation. And it would create a system of permits and mitigation measures for incidental bird deaths.

"We must make sure that the Fish and Wildlife Service knows that it has the authority to punish bad actors when they kill birds due to negligence," says Lowenthal. "Right now, the administration and the Department of the Interior are ignoring its responsibilities."

In September, Science Magazine reported that three billion birds have vanished from North America since 1970 - that's 30% of the bird population. The researchers blame incidental take from industry for one-third of those deaths.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA