Report: Wind tax credits subsidize ‘killing of federally protected birds’

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

The government is effectively subsidizing the killing of federally protected birds, according to a report which highlights a wide range of subsidies given to the wind industry.

“If Congress extends the PTC, federal taxpayers will, in effect, be subsidizing the killing of federally protected birds,” writes Robert Bryce, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the report’s author.

“Despite numerous violations, the Obama administration — like the Bush administration before it — has unofficially exempted the wind industry from prosecution under the Eagle Protection and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts,” Bryce continues. “By exempting the wind industry from prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or the Eagle Protection Act, the federal government is providing another indirect subsidy to the sector.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 440,000 birds are killed per year by wind turbines, and most of these birds are protected by federal law — the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Eagle Protection Act.

A violation of either of these laws can result in a $250,000 fine or imprisonment for two years — or both.

However, neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations ever prosecuted the wind industry for violating these laws despite evidence that unpermitted birds are being killed by wind turbines, according to Bryce.

The report also notes that while the wind industry is not prosecuted for killing birds, companies in other energy sectors have been hit by the law.

“There is a pernicious double standard here,” writes Bryce. “Over the past two decades or so, the Interior Department has brought hundreds of cases against the oil and gas industry and the electricity-generation sector for violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Eagle Protection Act.”

In 2009, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of killing 85 birds which were all protected under federal law, and agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees. That same year, Oregon-based PacifiCorp was fined for killing birds, paying $1.4 million in fines and restitution for the killing of 232 eagles in Wyoming, which were electrocuted by the company’s power lines.

“Meanwhile, that same agency has given the wind industry a de facto exemption from prosecution,” he added.

Only once has the wind industry ever faced prosecution for killing birds without a permit. In 2010, the state of California reached a $2.5 million settlement with NextEra Energy Resources for killing birds at Altamont, Calif. Current California Governor Jerry Brown was actually the prosecutor in that case.

A 2008 study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency estimated about “2,400 raptors, including burrowing owls, American kestrels, and red-tailed hawks — as well as about 7,500 other birds —” get killed every year by wind turbines at Altamo.

The Interior Department is considering issuing permits to the wind industry that will exempt certain projects from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Eagle Protection Act for as long as 30 years, but the Obama administration is delaying taking any action until after the elections.

According to Bryce, some environmental groups will likely file lawsuits if these permits are issued.

Bats are also getting killed, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, to the tune of more than 10,000 bats in the Keystone State in 2010 — an average of 25 bats per turbine per year, according to Bryce.

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