The Obama administration will allow wind turbine operators to kill 4,200 federally protected bald eagles before facing any penalties.
Under a finalized rule, wind turbine owners will not face a penalty if they kill or injure up to 4,200 bald eagles — that’s almost four times the current limit.
“We can’t eliminate human-caused eagle loss any more than we can eliminate risk from any other facet of modern life,” Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told The Associated Press.
Bald eagles are not an endangered species, but are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These laws prohibit killing, selling or otherwise harming them without a permit.
Wind farms kill an estimated 573,000 birds each year and 888,000 bats, according to a 2013 peer-reviewed study published in Wildlife Society Bulletin. Wind farms are projected to kill 1.4 million birds annually by 2030.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are about 143,000 bald eagles in the U.S. and 40,000 golden eagles. Despite the deaths of numerous birds, wind power has generally been well-received by environmentalists.
Wind farms owned by Duke Energy were forced to pay a $1 million fine for killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds in 2013. An Oregon-based wind power company was fined $2.5 million for killing 38 eagles in 2015. Modern wind turbines create a powerful vortex which literally sucks eagles and other birds into them.
To put those numbers into perspective, the 2010 British Petroleum Gulf oil spill only killed an estimated 800,000 birds, for which the company was fined $100 million. In the last five years, America’s wind turbines killed more than three times as many birds as the BP oil spill did.
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