Wind Farms Get Pass on Eagle Deaths

May 17, 2013

It happens all too frequently: A soaring golden eagle slams into a wind farm's spinning turbine and falls, mangled and lifeless, to the ground. Killing these iconic birds is not just an irreplaceable loss for a vulnerable species. It's also a federal crime, a charge that the Obama administration has used to prosecute oil companies when birds drown in their waste pits, and power companies when birds are electrocuted by their power lines, says the Associated Press.

But the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind energy company, even those that flout the law repeatedly. Instead, the government is shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the deaths secret.

The result is a green industry that's allowed to do not-so-green things. It kills protected species with impunity and conceals the environmental consequences of sprawling wind farms.

  • More than 573,000 birds are killed by the country's wind farms each year, including 83,000 hunting birds such as hawks, falcons and eagles, according to an estimate published in March in the peer-reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin.
  • Getting precise figures is impossible because many companies aren't required to disclose how many birds they kill. And when they do, experts say, the data can be unreliable.

When companies voluntarily report deaths, the Obama administration in many cases refuses to make the information public, saying it belongs to the energy companies or that revealing it would expose trade secrets or implicate ongoing enforcement investigations.

Nearly all the birds being killed are protected under federal environmental laws, which prosecutors have used to generate tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements from businesses, including oil and gas companies, over the past five years.

By not enforcing the law, the administration provides little incentive for companies to build wind farms where there are fewer birds. And while companies already operating turbines are supposed to avoid killing birds, in reality there's little they can do once the windmills are spinning.

Source: Dina Cappiello, "Wind Farms Get Pass on Eagle Deaths," Associated Press, May 14, 2013.

 

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