U.S. offers 30-year permits for killing eagles under wind energy plan
WASHINGTON — The
Globe and Mail
Dec. 06 2013,
11:34 AM EST
wind-power industry, the Obama administration said Friday it will allow
companies to kill or injure eagles without the fear of prosecution for up to
The new rule
is designed to
address environmental consequences that stand in the way of the nation’s wind
energy rush: the dozens of bald and golden eagles being killed each year by the
giant, spinning blades of wind turbines.
Video: U.S. wind
energy push leaves trail of dead eagles
Associated Press earlier this year documented the illegal killing of eagles
around wind farms, the Obama administration’s reluctance to prosecute such
cases and its willingness to help keep the scope of the eagle deaths secret.
President Barack Obama has championed the pollution-free energy, nearly
doubling America’s wind power in his first term as a way to tackle global
But all energy
has costs, and the
administration has been forced to accept the not-so-green sides of green energy
as a means to an end.
showed that corn-based ethanol blended into the nation’s gasoline has proven
more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and worse than the
willingness to accept environmental trade-offs – pollution, loss of
conservation land and the deaths of eagles – in hopes that green energy will
help fight climate change.
The new rule
will provide legal
protection for the lifespan of wind farms and other projects if companies
obtain permits and make efforts to avoid killing protected birds.
have to take
additional measures if they killed or injured more eagles than they had
estimated they would, or if new information suggested that eagle populations
were being affected. The permits would be reviewed every five years, and
companies would have to submit reports of how many eagles they killed. Now,
such reporting is voluntary, and the Interior Department refuses to release the
is not a program to kill
eagles,” said John Anderson, the director of siting policy at the American Wind
Energy Association. “This permit program is about conservation.”
have been aligned with the industry on other issues, said the decision by the
Interior Department sanctions the killing of an American icon.
of balancing the need
for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank
check,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold in a statement. The group
said it would challenge the decision.
are clusters of
turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a
passenger jet’s wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can
reach speeds of up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.
like drivers texting on cellphones; they don’t look up. As they scan below for
food, they don’t notice the blades until it is too late.
no wind energy company
has obtained permission authorizing the killing, injuring or harassment of
eagles, although five-year permits have been available since 2009. That has put
the companies at legal risk and has discouraged private investment in renewable
It also hasn’t
since, without permits, companies are not required to take steps to reduce
their impact on the birds or report when they are killed.
The new rule
makes clear that
revoking a permit – which could undermine investments and interest in wind
power – is a last resort under the administration’s energy policy.
additional mitigation measures ... will reduce the likelihood of amendments to,
or revocation of, the permit,” the rule says.
The wind energy
industry has said
the change mirrors permits already in place for endangered species, which are
more at risk than bald and golden eagles. Bald eagles were removed from the
endangered species list in 2007 but are still protected under two federal laws.
was not subjected to a full environmental review because the administration
classified it as an administrative change.
federal government didn’t
study the impacts of this rule change even though the (law) requires it,” said
Kelly Fuller, who formerly headed the wind campaign at the American Bird Conservancy.
“Instead, the feds have decided to break the law and use eagles as lab rats.”
Fish and Wildlife
Service said the new rule will enable it to better monitor the long-term
environmental effects of renewable energy projects.
goal is to ensure that the
wind industry sites and operates projects in ways that best minimize and avoid
impacts to eagles and other wildlife,” the agency said in a statement.
Duke Energy Corp.
pleaded guilty to killing eagles and other birds at two wind farms in Wyoming,
the first time a wind energy company had been prosecuted under a law protecting
A study by
federal biologists in
September found that wind farms since 2008 had killed at least 67 bald and
golden eagles, a number that the researchers said was likely underestimated.
That did not include deaths at Altamont Pass, an area in northern California
where wind farms kill an estimated 60 eagles a year.
unclear what toll, if any,
wind energy companies are having on eagle populations locally or regionally.
Gunshots, electrocutions and poisonings almost certainly kill more bald and
golden eagles than wind farms. But the toll could grow along with the industry.
A recent assessment
of the status
of the golden eagle in the western U.S. showed that populations have been
decreasing in some areas but rising in others.