On Sept. 5, eight states joined environmental groups in federal lawsuits against the U.S. Department of the Interior’s December 2017 reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The act prohibits killing certain bird species, but the Trump administration’s legal opinion states that the act only applies to the intentional, as opposed to incidental, killing of migratory birds.
In April 2018, DTE Midstream Appalachia, a natural gas pipeline company, took advantage of this reinterpretation when the agency granted their request to clear trees during birds’ nesting season for the Birdsboro Pipeline Project in Pennsylvania, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Since the 1970s, the federal government has used this act to threaten the energy industry with fines and prosecution for activities that kill migratory birds.
Oil companies were responsible for 90 percent of incidental killings under the act, according to the Audubon Society, and the Deepwater Horizon spill and 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker wreck accounted for 97 percent of all fines issued under the act. Under the administration’s new interpretation of the law, oil companies would not be fined for incidental bird killings that result from oil spills. –By Hannah McAlister