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Obama admin. not prosecuting wind farms for bird deaths

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The Obama administration is giving wind power producers a pass by not going after them for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of federally protected birds and bats.

But the feds have gone after fossil fuel and other companies that have killed these animals.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently has 18 open investigations into bird and bat deaths due to wind power operations, according to a service spokeswoman, with 14 of these cases involving the death of at least one golden eagle — which are federally protected under three different laws. Seven of these cases have been referred to the U.S. Justice Department for “potential prosecution.”

A spokesman with the Justice Department, however, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that there “have been no prosecutions to date under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and/or the Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Act related to the deaths of migratory birds, including eagles, at wind facilities.”

The Obama administration’s support for wind energy development and inaction against wind producers that allegedly break these laws has sparked the ire of House Republicans. Earlier this month, Republicans on the Committee on Natural Resources sent letters to the administration slamming them for not providing documentation related to bird deaths from wind farms.

“[Justice Department’s] lack of a timely response is unacceptable and frustrates Congress’s ability to conduct oversight of this important matter,” reads one letter sent to the Justice Department.

One of the most contentious energy issues of the 2012 campaign was the Wind Production Tax Credit, or wind PTC, which paid wind power producers for the electricity they generated from harnessing the wind.

Obama supported the tax credit to bolster support in states like Iowa where the wind energy industry has a huge presence. Nineteen non-energy firms — including Yahoo!, Starbucks and Sprint — also sent a letter to Congress urging them to extend the tax credit.

“We are concerned that allowing the PTC to expire will immediately raise prices for the renewable electricity we buy today,” the letter states. “Failure to extend the PTC for wind would tax our companies and thousands of others like us that purchase significant amounts of renewable energy and hurt our bottom lines at a time when the economy is struggling to recovery.”

According to the Washington Free Beacon, those businesses collectively gave more than $240,000 to President Obama’s campaign and about $7.3 million to Democratic campaigns. These businesses also gave more than $83,000 to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and about $4.5 million to Republicans.

Environmental groups have frequently supported both Barack Obama and wind subsidies. The League of Conservation Voters supported the president’s 2012 campaign and have touted the benefits of expanded wind energy production.

The Sierra Club — another Obama-backer — promotes wind energy as a way to move beyond fossil fuels and tackle global warming.

“Through the ages, wind has filled our sails, lifted our wings, and thrilled our souls. Now, with rapid advances in turbine technology, it’s propelling us into a world beyond fossil fuels,” reads an article in the group’s magazine. “Wind already generates more than 10 percent of the electricity in five states; strip away the subsidies for all fuels, and it’s the cheapest energy source we have. Feel that cool breeze? That’s the clean-energy future, blowing in as we speak.”

Each year 573,000 birds and 888,000 bats are killed by wind turbines in the U.S., according to an independent study published earlier this year. The study, published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, found that the federal government had underestimated the number of bird and bat deaths by 30 percent.

“As wind energy continues to expand, there is urgent need to improve fatality monitoring methods, especially in the implementation of detection trials, which should be more realistically incorporated into routine monitoring,” writes K. Shawn Smallwood, the study’s author..

However, the Justice Department has been prosecuting others who have harmed federally protected birds. From 2009 to April 2013, the administration has handled more than 200 cases under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, as well as more than 100 cases under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the National Wildlife Refuge Act. The Refuge Act prosecutions, however, may not involve harm to birds.

In 2009, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty to the deaths of about 85 protected birds at drilling drilling and production across five states that occurred between 2004 and 2009. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in community service and had to implement an “environmental compliance plan” aimed at preventing birds deaths at facilities — which cost millions of dollars. Also that year, Oregon-based PacifiCorp was also fined $1.4 million that same year for the killing of 232 eagles in Wyoming that got electrocuted by the company’s power lines.

The Justice Department would not comment on the number of open investigations that may exist regarding bird deaths from wind turbines, and would not comment on the status of any referrals sent over from other federal agencies.

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