Protecting the environment and wildlife often calls for balancing benefits and costs.
No, it’s not written as such into relevant legal codes or regulations. And though this tradeoff is almost a matter of course for wildlife, it’s also apparent in many decisions for humans.
However, the nation’s Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are about to put an exclamation mark on that idea.
First, Interior is about to change how agencies under its umbrella enforce the more than 100-year-old Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Formerly, potential penalties served as incentive for businesses and agriculture to take reasonable measures to avoid killing birds.
For instance, installing netting over oil waste pits or restricting certain pesticides spare thousands of birds annually.
In other words, taking reasonable steps at a reasonable cost to protect bird populations.
But now, the Interior Department has decided it will only prosecute those that “deliberately” kill birds, not those that kill them by “accident.”
This treaty has never attempted to altogether end the deaths of birds from unintentional consequences (wind turbines, skyscrapers, vehicles and power lines come to mind). There’s an unwritten understanding that such deaths are unavoidable. What this treaty does is aim to prevent those deaths that can be prevented.
But to argue that gross negligence does not translate into criminal intent is as good as a blank check to ignore practical protections for birds.
Meanwhile, the EPA is intent on putting a price tag on the protections the Clean Air Act provides for breathing. The EPA now wants to calculate what the economic impact of your need to breathe clean air is.
Formerly, federal law and court decisions have required the EPA to focus on public health — not what it cost businesses or tax revenues — to set limits on pollution. Now, before defining regulations on pollution, smog, soot, etc. it will need to determine their impact on the economy.
We don’t have a problem with having all the facts about such issues, but protecting public health should win every argument.
The EPA was never a perfect agency but once it cared as much about the environment as it now does the ability of polluters to get rich.
This shifting of the principles of the EPA and the Interior Department to “reform” regulations can only muddy their efforts.
What is clear though, is these policies tip the scales for wreaking havoc on clean air and wildlife.