The Interior Department on Monday revoked a Trump administration policy that would have undercut a century-old law protecting migratory birds, including Georgia’s state bird the brown thrasher.

This story also appeared in Georgia Recorder

The move strengthens federal regulators’ authority to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a 1918 law that allows the government to prosecute polluters whose actions are responsible for the deaths of about 1,100 protected bird species.

Wood storks feed their young at Harris Neck Wood storks lay eggs in Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge in Coastal Georgia in March to late May — the species is listed as “threatened.” (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)Wood storks feed their young at Harris Neck

An Interior spokesperson said Monday the department rescinded a 2017 legal opinion from then-Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani that held the department couldn’t enforce the law unless the bird deaths were intentional.

The spokesperson said that interpretation “overturned decades of bipartisan and international consensus and allowed industry to kill birds with impunity.”

A federal judge rejected the Jorjani policy last year, writing in a forceful opinion that it plainly contradicted the migratory bird law.

In the final weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, his Interior Department sought to formalize the policy with a new rule that was originally set to take effect last month before the Biden administration postponed its start date to Monday.

The Biden administration plans to officially revoke that rule with a new proposed rule set to be published “in the coming days,” the spokesperson said.

The department will also consider its interpretation of the law and “develop common sense standards that can protect migratory birds and provide certainty to industry,” the spokesperson said.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was used as part of the enforcement action that led to BP’s settlement for the 2009 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. Environmentalists say it’s a key deterrent for companies that may otherwise be less diligent about environmental protections.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

Jacob Fischler/Georgia Recorder

Jacob Fischler is a reporter for States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a nonprofit organization.