US senators from both parties are asking the US Department of Interior to reconsider draft permitting guidelines for wind-energy development, saying the guidelines would create too much red tape for developers.
Senators Mike Crapo and Jeff Merkley, an Idaho Republican and Oregon Democrat, respectively, led the 21 senators who signed the letter, which criticized the draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines that were issued in February.
In particular, the senators chastised the US Fish and Wildlife Service for issuing guidelines that differed from the recommendations of a joint committee of conservation groups, states and the wind-energy industry.
“Although these guidelines are voluntary, they could still set a precedent for standards that will create unnecessary complications for wind energy projects,” the senators wrote. “The differences are significant and potentially troubling for the continued development of wind resources in America.”
The guidelines for land-based wind projects outline a five-step process for wind companies to gauge potential risks to birds and other wildlife during project development. Although the guidelines are voluntary, FWS has said companies that follow the process will be largely shielded from prosecution under bird-protection laws.
Wind-energy developers also were critical of the draft guidelines in comments they submitted earlier this year. The American Wind Energy Association, which represents wind developers, said the agency “missed an opportunity” by ignoring the industry’s recommendations.
Senators also asked FWS to reconsider the 2009 Eagle Conservation Plan guidance, which they said does not allow developers enough options for mitigating disturbances to eagles.
An Interior Department spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the letter.
Some bird groups, including the American Bird Conservancy, have said the draft rules do not go far enough and that FWS has historically been reluctant to prosecute companies for bird deaths.