Obama admin. finally taking action on bird deaths at wind farms

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

The Obama administration announced its first ever legal action against a wind energy company for the killing of birds.

A subsidiary of Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1 million in fines for the killing of 160 birds, including 14 golden eagles, at two wind farms in Wyoming, the Los Angeles Times reports. This is the first time the Obama administration has brought criminal charges against an energy company for its wind turbines killing federally protected birds.

“This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects,” said Robert Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s environment division.

The company killed 160 birds at two Wyoming wind farms between 2009 and 2013, according to court documents, violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act — which was first enacted in 1918 and protects more than 1,000 species of birds. The Justice Department said that Duke Energy failed to do enough to avert birds from being killed by their turbines, despite warnings from the government.

“Our goal is to provide the benefits of wind energy in the most environmentally friendly responsible way possible,” said Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables.

Fish and Wildlife Service did not impose regulations on wind-turbine construction until 2012. However, the killing of the birds still violates federal law.

This news comes about one week after The Daily Caller News Foundation reported that the Justice Department was sitting on seven investigations regarding bird deaths from wind farms referred to them by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The service has 18 open investigations into bird and bat deaths at wind farms, according to a spokeswoman. Fourteen of these cases involve the death of at least one golden eagle — a federally protected bird.

House Republicans have been putting pressure on the Obama administration in recent months to release documents and information regarding Justice Department and Fish and Wildlife Service actions on wind farms that kill birds.

“[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 from House Republicans to the Justice Department.

The Obama administration urged wind-turbine companies to research possible effects on birds before citing farms, because “at the present time, no post-construction remedies” except shutting down turbines can make it safe for birds to fly in those areas.

According to court filings, Duke is working on radar technology for wind turbines that will detect eagles near wind sites. The company is also employing biologists who will watch for birds to shut down turbines if they get too close. Duke’s plan to minimize bird deaths will cost $600,000 per year.

“Our voluntary monitoring and curtailment of turbines have been effective,” said Tim Hayes, Duke’s environmental development director.” Upon implementing these measures, more than a year passed without any known golden eagle fatalities at these sites.”

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