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US Proposes Ending Rule That Weakened Wild Bird Protections

BILLINGS, Mont. — The Biden administration on Monday proposed revoking a rule imposed under former President Donald Trump that weakened the government's power to enforce a century-old law that protects most U.S. bird species.

The Interior Department announcement comes after officials in March said they were reversing a Trump policy that ended criminal prosecutions against companies responsible for bird deaths that could have been prevented. 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said revoking the regulatory changes finalized during Trump's last days in office represented part of the Biden administration's efforts to ensure that agency decisions are guided by science.

"The Migratory bird Treaty Act is a bedrock environmental law that is critical to protecting migratory birds and restoring declining bird populations," Haaland said in a statement.

The prohibition against accidental bird deaths was used most notably in a $100 million settlement by energy company BP after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill killed about 100,000 birds, according to federal data. Some scientists have said that the number of birds that died could be higher.

Industry groups supported the Trump policy, but since President Joe Biden took office they have expressed willingness to work with the Democrat. 

The migratory bird policy was among dozens of Trump-era environmental actions Biden ordered reconsidered on his first day in office. Former federal officials, environmental groups and Democrats in Congress said many of the Trump rules were aimed at benefiting private industry at the expense of conservation.

More than 1,000 North American bird species are covered by the treaty — from fast-flying peregrine falcon to tiny songbirds and more than 20 owl species. Non-native species and some game birds, like wild turkeys, are not on the list.

Besides the BP case, hundreds of enforcement cases — targeting utilities, oil companies and wind energy developers — resulted in criminal fines and civil penalties totaling $5.8 million between 2010 and 2018.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials have said relatively few of the cases end with criminal prosecutions because most companies are willing to take measures to address hazards that their operations may pose to birds.

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