Language in bill threatens wild birds

The bald eagle would lose at least some federal protection under an amendment proposed by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., to benefit energy production.

The bald eagle and countless other species of birds are protected by a century-old federal law that a South Carolina congressman is trying to alter.

Bird conservation groups are horrified. The National Audubon Society, among others, is fighting the appropriations bill amendment proposed by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.

A Duncan staffer said the amendment is designed to promote wind energy production, aimed at eliminating penalties for accidental bird deaths such as from wind turbine blades. The thing is, the language in the amendment approved by the House of Representatives eliminates all penalties.

“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is no more a barrier to U.S. commerce or economic development now than in all the decades since it was enacted in 1918,” said Nathan Dias, of Cape Romain Bird Observatory. “The United States has done just fine economically with it in place for almost 100 years. Jeff Duncan should be ashamed of his sneaky bird-killing amendment.”

Duncan was forced to remove the “accidental” language from the amendment to the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill in the House of Representatives because of a House rule prohibiting legislating in an amendment to an appropriations bill made from the House floor, said spokesman Allen Klump.

Duncan intends to make sure the language is restored if the amendment is reconsidered, he said.

“Jeff supports the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. He thinks it’s good legislation,” Klump said, but it needs the “accidental death” exclusion.

Audubon is having none of that.

“We’ll reserve judgment on the language and welcome any language that supports conservation,” said Mike Daulton, Audubon government relations vice president. But the society would continue to oppose the amendment “100 percent” with the “accidental” language added, he said.

“He’d be eliminating any penalties BP (petroleum company) would have had to pay for killing an estimated 1 million birds (in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill),” Daulton said.

The appropriations bill, an act authorizing spending for the coming fiscal year, was approved by the House with the amendment attached. It has been approved by a Senate committee without the amendment and has gone to the full Senate for a vote. There are still a number of opportunities for the amendment to be reinserted.

President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill.

“At the very least, we’re hoping the (Obama) administration takes notice of the issue” and rewrites the migratory bird law, Klump said.

(Editor’s note: Earlier versions of this story did not note that the bald eagle would still be protected by other federal laws if the amendment is approved.)

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