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              FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2012 file photo wind turbines produce green energy in Nauen near Berlin, Germany. Stephan Kohler, who heads the government-affiliated agency overseeing Germany

Feds give wind farms the OK to kill eagles for 30 years

The Obama administration has just given wind turbine operators the license to kill birds and eagles for 30 years, a move welcomed by the wind industry but derided by environmentalists and Republicans.

The Interior Department changed a rule that now enables the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the amount of time renewable energy companies can kill migratory birds and eagles in a bid to boost green energy development. Wind operators can now get a permit to kill birds for 30 years, up from five years.

“Eagles symbolize America’s national heritage and deserve more protection, not less. This rule change will make it harder to protect the remaining eagles that San Diegans love,” said Donna Tisdale, secretary of the environmental group Protect Our Communities Foundation.

The permitting extension would allow renewable energy companies to kill a specified number of birds and eagles at their facilities for 30 years, but only if those bird deaths were unintentional and if companies made efforts to minimize avian deaths.

The Obama administration has been repeatedly criticized by the environmentalists and Republicans for allowing wind turbine sites to kill hundreds of thousands of birds annually with no legal punishment. In particularly, while oil, gas and electrical companies were being heavily fined for killing birds.

“Permits to kill eagles just seems unpatriotic, and 30 years is a long time for some of these projects to accrue a high death rate,” said Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter. “The Administration has repeatedly prosecuted oil, gas, and other businesses for taking birds, but looks the other way when wind farms or other renewable energy companies do the exact same thing.”

In November, the Obama administration finally prosecuted an energy company for bird deaths at wind farms. A subsidiary of Duke Energy agreed to pay $1 million in fines for the killing of 160 birds at two wind farms in Wyoming.

The wind industry welcomed the administration’s decision to extend permitting times for wind farms, saying it will protect birds and help the industry grow.

“In summary, this permit duration change will facilitate much needed, long-term eagle conservation efforts, while allowing wind companies to continue to increase the amount of clean, renewable, affordable energy they supply to American consumers,” the American Wind Energy Association said in a statement.

“If you increase the length of eagle take permits from five years to 30 years, common sense says there are going to be some effects on eagles,” said Kelly Fuller, consultant to The Protect Our Communities Foundation and former campaigner at the American Bird Conservancy.

“According to the [Fish and Wildlife Service’s] own Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance, there are no proven measures that will reduce the numbers of eagles killed once the wind turbines are installed,” she added. “This rule change is a disaster.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 440,000 birds are killed by wind turbines every year in the U.S. However, that number is said to be a low-ball estimate by independent researchers. Each year 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed by wind turbines in the U.S., according a study by K. Shawn Smallwood that was published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin.

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