Obama doesn’t punish wind industry for bird deaths, goes after oil companies

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Federally protected birds killed by oil companies are treated differently than those killed by wind turbines, according to The Associated Press.

An AP investigation found that the Obama administration has been protecting the wind industry from being punished under federal wildlife laws as the Wildlife Society Bulletin estimates that more than 573,000 birds are killed by wind turbines each year. Under the Obama administration no wind energy company has ever been prosecuted.

Moreover, nearly all the birds killed are protected by federal law — the Migratory Bird Act and the Eagle Protection Act — and violating the law can result in a $250,000 fine or imprisonment for two years, or both.

This amounts to a huge subsidy for wind power, says Manhattan Institute senior fellow Robert Bryce. The wind industry has received other subsidies under the Obama administration, as the president signed into law an extension of generous tax benefits to the industry that will cost $12 billion for a one year extension, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

“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,” wrote Bryce. “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.”

While the wind industry goes unpunished for killing hundreds of thousands of birds, oil and gas companies have been punished for killing fewer federally protected birds and have been forced to pay millions in fines.

ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in a 2009 federal court case to charges of killing 85 federally protected birds and agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees. The Oregon-based PacifiCorp was also fined in 2009 for killing birds and paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for the killing of 232 eagles in Wyoming, which were electrocuted by the company’s power lines.

The Obama administration has also proposed a rule that would allow wind energy company to apply for 30-year permits to kill a set number of bald and golden eagles.

“It’s basically guaranteeing a black box for 30 years, and they’re saying ‘trust us for oversight.’ This is not the path forward,” said Katie Umekubo, a renewable energy attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Obama Interior Department also updated its guidelines and allowed wind-energy companies to avoid federal scrutiny unless the death of a protected bird has a “significant adverse impact” on wildlife or habitat.

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