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A bald eagle returns to its nest after catching a fish at the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Maryland November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron A bald eagle returns to its nest after catching a fish at the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River in Maryland November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron  

Bird Enthusiasts To Sue Feds For Allowing Wind Turbines To Kill Eagles For 30 Years

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) announced it was suing the Obama administration for finalizing a rule that would allow wind farms to kill eagles for up to 30 years. The bird group says that the new rule violates existing federal laws.

ABC says it supports green energy, including wind power, but the Interior Department’s eagle “take” rule finalized last December goes too far and allows wind power producers to ignore basic environmental protections and analysis.

“ABC will take appropriate action to protect eagles and other migratory birds. The 30-year eagle permit rule – adopted in the absence of any [National Environmental Policy Act] document or any consultation under [the Endangered Species Act],” the group wrote to the Interior Department.

Last year, reports began to surface of the huge impact wind farms have on bird populations. One report said that 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats were being killed each year by wind turbines, more than 30 percent higher than federal government estimates. Many of these birds were protected by federal laws, including the Migratory Bird Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Such information forced environmentalists to rethink their support for wind power, as rare eagles and birds were being cut down by revolving turbine blades. Groups began issuing guidelines for how wind farms should be cited or calling for a ban on wind turbines altogether.

In 2011, the Spain-based Save the Eagles International (STEI) called for a moratorium on wind turbine construction around the world, until the environmental impacts of wind farms could be fully assessed.

“[M]ortality caused by windfarms and their power lines is new and additional”, said STEI President Mark Duchamp. “[A]nd like the proverbial last drop that spills the glass, its effects will be upsetting. To wit the Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, which has been condemned to extinction by the construction of seven windfarms in its habitat.”

ABC doesn’t want to ban wind farms, but says that Interior’s rule allowing wind power companies to “take” eagles for up to 30 years was “promulgated specifically to respond to the wind power industry’s desire to facilitate the expansion of wind power projects in occupied eagle habitat.”

Last December, the Interior Department finalized a rule that allowed wind power producers to get permits to “take” — injure, kill, or disturb — eagles for up to 30 years. Previously, wind producers could only get eagle “take” permits for up to five years.

“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a December statement. “The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations.”

Until last year, the Obama administration had never prosecuted the wind power industry for the killing of hundreds of thousands of birds. Critics lambasted the administration for punishing fossil fuel companies and utilities for bird deaths while wind power got a free pass.

From 2009 to April 2013, the Obama administration handled more than 200 cases involving the taking of federally protected birds and eagles. But none of these cases involved wind power companies.

“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,” Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter said in December.

It wasn’t until November 2013 that the Obama administration finally prosecuted an energy company for bird deaths at wind farms. The government ordered that a subsidiary of Duke Energy pay $1 million in fines for the killing of 160 birds at two wind farms in Wyoming.

But this has been the only wind power prosecution so far, and environmentalists worry that the Obama administration may be slow to prosecute more wind companies in the future, especially if companies are allowed 30-year “take” permits.

“ABC has heard from thousands of citizens from across the country who are outraged that the [Interior Department] wants to let the wind industry legally kill our country’s iconic Bald and Golden eagles,”  said Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.

“The rule lacks a firm foundation in scientific justification and was generated without the benefit of a full assessment of its impacts on eagle populations,” Hutchins added.

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