Under pressure from the wind-power industry, US President Barack Obama’s administration on Friday said it would allow companies to kill or injure eagles without the fear of prosecution for up to three decades.
The new rule is designed to address environmental consequences that stand in the way of the nation’s wind energy rush: the dozens of bald and golden eagles being killed each year by the giant, spinning blades of wind turbines.
An investigation by The Associated Press (AP) earlier this year documented the illegal killing of eagles around wind farms, the Obama administration’s reluctance to prosecute such cases and its willingness to help keep the scope of the eagle deaths secret. Obama has championed the pollution-free energy, nearly doubling the US’ wind power in his first term as a way to tackle global warming.
However, all energy has costs, and the administration has been forced to accept the not-so-green sides of green energy as a means to an end.
Another AP investigation recently showed that corn-based ethanol blended into the US’ gasoline has proven more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and worse than the government acknowledges.
These examples highlight Obama’s willingness to accept environmental trade-offs — pollution, loss of conservation land and the deaths of eagles — in hopes that green energy will help fight climate change.
The new rule will provide legal protection for the lifespan of wind farms and other projects if companies obtain permits and make efforts to avoid killing protected birds.
Companies would have to take additional measures if they killed or injured more eagles than they had estimated they would, or if new information suggested that eagle populations were being affected. The permits would be reviewed every five years, and companies would have to submit reports of how many eagles they killed. Now, such reporting is voluntary, and the US Department of the Interior refuses to release the information.
“This is not a program to kill eagles,” said John Anderson, the director of siting policy at the American Wind Energy Association. “This permit program is about conservation.”
However, conservation groups, which have been aligned with the industry on other issues, said the decision by the Interior Department sanctions the killing of a US icon.
“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” Audubon president and CEO David Yarnold said in a statement.
The group said it would challenge the decision.
Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet’s wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds of up to 273kph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.
Flying eagles behave somewhat like drivers texting on cellphones; they do not look up. As they scan below for food, they do not notice the blades until it is too late.
Last month, Duke Energy Corp pleaded guilty to killing eagles and other birds at two wind farms in Wyoming, the first time a wind energy company had been prosecuted under a law protecting migratory birds.
A study by federal biologists in September found that wind farms since 2008 had killed at least 67 bald and golden eagles, a number that the researchers said was likely underestimated. That did not include deaths at Altamont Pass, an area in northern California where wind farms kill an estimated 60 eagles a year.