A new federal rule that exempts electric utilities from penalties for accidental deaths or injuries of migratory birds during routine operations has been put on hold.

The Biden administration has sidelined implementation of the revised Migratory Bird Treaty Act until March 8 as it considers whether to amend or repeal the rule, which was to take effect Feb. 8.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Jan. 7 rule was based on a 2017 legal interpretation and affirmed that the MBTA only applies to intentionally injuring or killing birds.

NRECA has long supported efforts by the federal agency to clarify the intent of the law and its intersection with electric infrastructure, said Janelle Lemen, regulatory director of the national trade group for electric cooperatives.

“If allowed to go into effect, this new rule will provide greater certainty for electric co-ops as they continue to maintain and modernize the electric grid while reducing the impacts of electric equipment on migratory birds,” Lemen said.

The USFWS has opened a 20-day public comment period to inform its review. The deadline for comments is March 1.

Electric co-ops have spent decades adopting strategies and technologies that mitigate interactions between birds and power infrastructure. Many have active avian protection programs and plan to keep these efforts in place.

“Tri-State will continue to implement our avian protection program to minimize impacts to migratory birds that may result from construction and operation of our facilities,” said Karl W. Myers, transmission siting, permitting and environmental planning manager at Tri-State Generation & Transmission based in Westminster, Colorado.

The rule does not apply to birds protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.