HELENA, MT – Late last week, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration published its final analysis of a rule to gut protections for migratory birds. The move paves the way for major rollbacks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918 before the Biden administration comes into office. The effort to gut the act has been fueled by Big Oil special interests tied to former oil lobbyist–turned Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Trump’s political appointees. In four short years, this administration has weakened or rolled back more than 125 environmental protections, with dozens more still in progress.
“Trump just keeps solidifying his legacy of the worst environmental, public lands, and wildlife presidency in history. This is yet another gift to Big Oil by corrupt Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on his way out the door. Putting another favor for Big Oil before the immediate needs of struggling small businesses and workers during a pandemic illustrates everything that is wrong with the Trump administration and its priorities,” said Western Values Project Director Jayson O’Neill.
Recent research from Western Values Project (WVP) found that at least seventeen of Secretary Bernhardt’s former clients received handouts during his tenure, but few have received more than Big Oil. The rollbacks to the MBTA seek to exclude the “incidental” killing of birds from the ‘take’ definition of the act, which would shield Big Oil and energy corporations from liability and potential penalties. The final environmental impact statement even acknowledges that the preferred rule would “likely result in increased bird mortality.”
Public records previously obtained by WVP uncovered a request by industry front–group Western Energy Alliance submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “suggesting statutory changes to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)” months before the initial solicitor’s opinion was issued in December of 2017. The documents also revealed that Bernhardt’s former client, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, had inside knowledge of the pending rollbacks. The solicitor’s opinion was eventually struck down by a federal judge, forcing the Trump administration to attempt to gut the rule administratively.
The Trump administration continues to push through harmful environmental rollbacks for special interests during the lame duck with little accountability or concern, creating layers upon layers of regulatory uncertainty for state and local governments, businesses, and public land users.