Last month, the US Department of the Interior made a decision to cripple the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). In a legal memorandum, the Department states that “incidental,” as opposed to “intentional,” bird deaths resulting from energy industry activities will no longer result in prosecution, effectively removing accountability over such deaths – for example, birds killed in oil spills.
The MBTA is one of the country’s oldest and most effective protections for birds, which Mass Audubon helped get passed in Congress, making it illegal to hunt, trap, kill, or possess nearly 1,000 avian species. When birds die through activities like energy extraction, the MBTA is one way to hold industry responsible, and gives companies a strong incentive to avoid such impacts in the first place.
This decision strips away that incentive at a time when migratory birds are already stressed by habitat loss and climate change. Mass Audubon has also opposed an amendment to federal legislation that would have effectively made the same change; the energy bill to which that amendment was attached is still awaiting debate in Congress.