Trump Administration Reverses Obama-Era Policy on Accidental Bird Deaths

Bloomberg | Jennifer A Dlouhy | December 22, 2017

The Trump administration, reversing an Obama-era policy, said it won’t prosecute oil drillers, wind-farm developers and others who accidentally kill migratory birds.

 The Interior Department said accidental deaths of those birds will no longer be considered a violation of a federal law meant to protect them, whether they are struck by a spinning wind turbine, vaporized by a solar array or sink in a drilling waste pond.
The change is a victory for energy companies and developers that worried about liability under the Obama administration’s view of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to “pursue, hunt, take, capture” or kill any migratory bird except with a valid permit. Under that century-old law, misdemeanors can be punished by as much as six months in prison and fines of up to $15,000.
The Obama administration issued a legal opinion in January concluding the law covers incidental as well as intentional takings of migratory birds.

That approach “hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive actions,” the Interior Department’s solicitor said in a memorandum that reversed that interpretation.

The Trump administration withdrew that opinion in February. The versionthat replaced it Friday asserts that intent matters — and accidental migratory bird deaths don’t violate the law.

“This commonsense approach ensures that lawful activities are not held hostage to unnecessary threats of criminalization,” said Tim Charters, senior director of government affairs for the National Ocean Industries Association, which represents oil companies and wind developers working offshore.

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