Congressman Lowenthal Introduces Legislation To Protect Millions Of Migratory Birds Threatened By Trump Administration Actions

January 8, 2020
Press Release

Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) today introduced H.R.5552, bipartisan legislation that would codify important protections for millions of migratory birds. The legislation would reverse the Trump Administration’s reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), which since its passage over a century ago, has become the lynchpin of our nation’s migratory bird conservation efforts.

“The MBTA has been a critical tool for bird conservation for over 100 years,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “Every Democratic and Republican presidential administration since the 1970s has interpreted and applied the law in a similar way, which has saved countless numbers of birds. The Trump Administration’s wrong-headed reinterpretation of the MBTA instead lets commercial interests off the hook when it comes to killing birds. My bill will reverse that by reaffirming and formalizing the MBTA protections.”

The Congressman’s legislation deals with language within the MBTA that seeks to eliminate “incidental takes” by commercial activity. An incidental take is when birds are killed during an otherwise legal activity. For example, birds which are killed by flying into open oil pits. Previous administrations have used fines and financial incentives to reduce incidental takes by commercial and business entities.

In December 2017, the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a legal opinion that, for the first time, exempted all incidental take from enforcement. This reinterpretation has led to widespread objections, including former senior DOI officials from Republican and Democratic administrations, multiple states, and hundreds of organizations. Despite this, the DOI plans to double down on their incidental take policy by codifying their interpretation of the MBTA in federal code.

The Congressman’s legislation, the Migratory Bird Protection Act, would reaffirm decades of practice and policy of the MBTA by every previous Republican and Democratic administration; uphold our international treaty obligations regarding bird conservation; help minimize certain industrial hazards and incentivize best management practices; and allow for financial resources to recover from incidents that impacts birds, such as oil spills.

“Under previous administrations’ incidental take policies,” Congressman Lowenthal said, “BP was fined tens of millions of dollars after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed more than a million birds protected under the MBTA. A similar incident happening today, under the Trump Administration policies, would not result in a single dollar’s worth of fines. That is simply wrong.”

Congressman Lowenthal’s legislation also calls on the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a permit program to authorize incidental take in a way that would minimize regulatory burdens while incentivizing commercial entities to implement best practices that protect birds. It would also create a mitigation fee for impacts that cannot be avoided to help conserve impacted bird populations, including through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) program, Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, and other conservation programs.

The legislation is cosponsored by: Don Beyer (VA-08), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Ed Case (HI-01), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), Deb Haaland (NM-01), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Betty McCollum (MN-04), Jerry McNerney (CA-09), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Eleanor Holmes Norton (Del-DC-01), Francis Rooney (FL-19), Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), and Nydia M. Velazquez (NY-07).

To read the full text of the legislation, click here.