NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Windmills vs. Birds

March 12, 2012

Some 77 organizations -- led by the American Bird Conservancy, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Endangered Species Coalition and numerous chapters of the Audubon Society -- are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to toughen the rules for the siting, permitting and operation of large-scale wind projects.  It's about time, says Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

  • Over the past two decades, the federal government has prosecuted hundreds of cases against oil and gas producers and electricity producers for violating some of America's oldest wildlife-protection laws: the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Eagle Protection Act.
  • But the Obama administration -- like the Bush administration before it -- has never prosecuted the wind industry despite myriad examples of widespread, unpermitted bird kills by turbines.
  • A violation of either law can result in a fine of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for two years.

The renewed focus on bird kills is coming at a bad time for the wind industry, which is being hammered by low natural gas prices and a Congress unwilling to extend the 2.2 cents per-kilowatt-hour production tax credit that has fueled the industry's growth in recent years.

  • Last June, the Los Angeles Times reported that about 70 golden eagles are being killed per year by the wind turbines at Altamont Pass, about 20 miles east of Oakland, Calif.
  • A 2008 study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency estimated that about 2,400 raptors, including burrowing owls, American kestrels and red-tailed hawks -- as well as about 7,500 other birds, nearly all of which are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act -- are being killed every year by the turbines at Altamont.

Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who wrote the petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says, "It's absolutely clear that there's been a mandate from the top" echelons of the federal government not to prosecute the wind industry for violating wildlife laws.

Source: Robert Bryce, "Windmills vs. Birds," Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2012.

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