SWFL environment: On budgets and birds, Trump giveth and taketh away

02-07-20 Everglades birdsA flock of ibis on the wing.

Feb. 7, 2020 by David Silverberg

When it comes to Southwest Florida’s natural environment, President Donald Trump’s administration is both giving and taking away.

The giving consists of a reported $250 million request for next fiscal year’s federal budget.

The official request is scheduled to be revealed on Monday, Feb. 10 with the rest of the federal budget. The Everglades funding was widely reported in Florida media, attributed to a “senior administration official.”

The taking consists of a proposed rule that reinterprets the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) to decriminalize the unintentional killing or injuring of migratory birds—a major consideration for the wildlife that inhabits Southwest Florida and the Everglades.

The money

The report of the $250 million request comes in advance of release of the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which is scheduled to be released Monday, Feb. 10.

If the $250 million is in fact requested as reported, it would provide a stark contrast with last year when Trump requested only $63 million of the $200 million the federal government had promised to provide Florida for Everglades restoration.

The inadequate $63 million request so alarmed Florida’s senators and representatives that on March 14, 2019 Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.) joined Florida’s Republican senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to issue a letter to Trump calling for full funding. It was the third time since Trump took office that he had failed to meet federal funding obligations.

Trump took a trip to Lake Okeechobee on March 29, were he was lobbied by Florida officials and made vague promises to provide more money. Following the lawmakers’ complaints Florida did receive $200 million in the 2020 fiscal year budget.

This year is an election year and Florida is crucial to Trump’s re-election chances. Additionally, he is now officially a Florida resident.

When he announced his retirement after stating that he was open to hearing impeachment evidence against the president, Rooney stated that he had done what he had set out to do in Congress by getting the $200 million. Everglades restoration was a Rooney priority since his election in 2016.

The Paradise Progressive has requested comment from Rooney’s office regarding the budget request.

The birds

On Jan. 30 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that it was proposing a new rule that decriminalized unintentional injuring or killing of migratory birds under the MBTA.

While the rule will not directly affect the large migratory bird populations of Southwest Florida, it does peel back one more layer of regulatory protection for them.

In the previous administration, the MBTA was interpreted as covering accidental killing and injury of migratory birds, making such injuries and deaths a criminal act.

While prosecutions were few, the rule provided regulators and prosecutors with an additional tool to prevent harm to migratory birds. For example, when birds were killed due to the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, BP was charged with criminal acts in addition to civil damages, providing further inducement for the company to settle with the government.

The rule has long been appealed by industry, which argues that it should not be held criminally responsible for accidental bird killings in the course of normal operations.

“With five federal circuit courts of appeals divided on this question, it is important to bring regulatory certainty to the public by clarifying that the criminal scope of the MBTA only reaches to conduct intentionally injuring birds,” Rob Wallace, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks stated. “That said, we will continue to work collaboratively with states, cities, conservation groups, industries, trade associations and citizens to ensure that best practices are followed to minimize unintended harm to birds and their habitats.”

The rule is in the proposal stage and members of the public have until March 19 to comment on it.

According to the FWS statement, comments for or against the rule can be made by going to:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments to Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090.
  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-HQ-MB-2018-0090; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; MS: JAO/1N; 5275 Leesburg Pike; Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

We will not accept email or faxes. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov, including any personal information you provide.

 Interested readers can follow the links to view the proposed rule and notice of intent.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

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