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Request to suspend work of FWS Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee  

Author:  | Environment, Regulations, U.S., Wildlife

May 11, 2009

Kenneth Salazar
Secretary
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240

Rowan Gould
Acting Director
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240

Re: Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee

Dear Secretary Salazar and Acting Director Gould:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Industrial Wind Action Group, the Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, D. Daniel Boone, Maryland Conservation Council, Save Our Allegheny Ridges, Friends of Blackwater Canyon, Protect the Flint Hills, Chautauqua County Citizens for Responsible Wind Power, Green Berkshires, Inc., Juniata Valley Audubon Society, Ripley Hawk Watch, Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, Wildlife Advocacy Project, Union Neighbors United, and Laurel Mountain Preservation Association.

On January 17, 2008, on behalf of many of these and other conservation groups and citizens concerned with the impact of poorly sited and constructed wind power projects on bat and bird populations, I wrote to your predecessors regarding the composition of the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee ("Committee"). In particular, our letter pointed out that, because the Committee as appointed by the Bush Administration was controlled by representatives of the wind power industry, and also had gaping holes in scientific expertise regarding adverse wildlife impacts, the Committee violated the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5 U.S.C. App. II ("FACA"), that all chartered advisory committees must be "fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee," and "will not be inappropriately influenced by … any special interest."

Unfortunately, more than one and one-half years following the Committee's establishment, and despite a few minor changes in the Committee's membership, it has now become even clearer than before that the Committee continues to be unlawfully dominated by the wind power industry, and that any recommendations the Committee issues will therefore accomplish little if anything in addressing the potentially devastating effects of poorly sited wind power projects on the nation's precious wildlife resources.

Thus, the Committee released its latest set of draft recommendations in advance of the Committee's meeting on March 13, 2009. See Attachment. Unfortunately, the draft recommendations are astonishingly anemic and, rather than setting forth rigorous siting and construction criteria based on the best available science – which is what the public was led to believe would result from this long-overdue process – the recommendations instead contain little but vague bromides and generic pronouncements.

Even worse, the draft recommendations read more as an unabashed endorsement of wind power than a rigorous effort to address the harmful – and ever growing – effects of poorly sited and constructed wind power projects on wildlife. Indeed, rather than carrying out the Committee's charter to "provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior" regarding "effective measures to avoid or minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitats related to land-based wind energy facilities," the draft recommendations instead contain the truly remarkable suggestion that wind power projects should be held to a far less rigorous standard than other forms of energy (or other) projects. Thus, the draft asserts:

The Committee recommends that the Secretary apply the USFWS guidelines for review of wind power development, and make management and mitigation decisions, with appropriate consideration of wind energy's carbon reduction benefits. In addressing wind project impacts on wildlife, the Committee urges the Secretary to consider the larger effects of climate change that are posting significant and growing threats to birds and other wildlife species. For example, the IPCC recently concluded that climate change caused by human activity is likely to seriously affect terrestrial biological systems (IPCC 2007).

Attachment at 4 (emphasis added).

The unmistakable import of this and many other statements in the draft is that wildlife impacts that would be deemed unacceptable in the context of different kinds of projects should somehow be excused because of the "larger effects of climate change" on wildlife. Although it is indisputable that global climate change poses an enormous threat to wildlife, that affords no legal, scientific, or even logical basis for allowing wind projects to be constructed and sited in such a manner as to decimate bat and bird populations, or to significantly harm wildlife in other ways – as, unfortunately, is and will be the case with many operating and planned wind power projects.[1]

More important, the Committee's charter was not to balance the impacts of wind power on wildlife against the impacts of global climate change. Rather, once again, the charter was to devise "effective measures to avoid or minimize impacts to wildlife and their habitats related to land-based wind energy facilities." Yet more than one and one-half years after the Committee's creation it has become abundantly clear that the actual role of the Committee, at least as currently constituted, will be to offer justifications for not developing rigorous, enforceable criteria designed to "avoid or minimize" the ever escalating wildlife impacts from poorly sited and constructed wind power turbines.

Regrettably, as it has become increasingly apparent that the Committee will perform no useful role in finally setting the stage for environmentally responsible wind power development, evidence has continued to emerge that poorly sited and constructed wind power projects are already wreaking havoc on wildlife, including federally listed species. For example, the Pennsylvania Game Commission recently released a report indicating that the plethora of projects constructed in that state are already having adverse effects on bat populations, with many more turbines already slated for construction. Among the species likely to be affected is the highly endangered Indiana bat. When the devastating bat-killing disease white-nose syndrome – which has now spread to much of the East Coast – is factored into the equation, it is easy to understand why leading bat experts (who should have had more of a presence on the Committee than industry lobbyists) are predicting truly dire consequences unless drastic changes are made in the way that wind power projects are sited and regulated.

Yet, in the meantime, the industry-controlled federal advisory committee established by the Bush Administration has already made it clear that it will offer up, at most, platitudes and empty rhetoric and, at worst, weak rationalizations for why the global climate crisis somehow justifies looking the other way while the wind power industry creates, or at least contributes to, another ecological crisis. Indeed, the Committee's current draft does not begin to even acknowledge the parameters of the problem, let alone prescribe meaningful solutions for it.

Under these circumstances, and especially in light of your declared commitment to restoring the role of sound science in Interior Department decisionmaking, we urge you to take immediate action to suspend the work of the Committee, at least until you have had a chance to make a fresh evaluation of its composition and operation, and to take steps to ensure that the Committee has the genuine scientific expertise and independence necessary to develop recommendations that are truly protective of migratory birds, bats, and other wildlife resources. Otherwise, the inevitable result will be a waste of taxpayer money on an unbalanced (and hence unlawful) advisory process that will do nothing to restore the public's faith in the ability of the government – and the Interior Department in particular – to make scientifically sound decisions untainted by the corrosive influence of industry lobbyists and representatives.

Sincerely,

Eric R. Glitzenstein
Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal

1. To be sure, it is difficult to imagine this same rationale being proffered for less rigorously scrutinizing the adverse environmental impacts of other kinds of projects – e.g., nuclear or hydroelectric power plants – that proponents may also seek to justify on the grounds that they may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In any event, that a Committee whose declared purpose is to “avoid or minimize” impacts on wildlife is instead being used to promote wind power as the preferred solution to global warming merely highlights the extent to which the Committee’s crucial mission has been hijacked by paid advocates of the wind power industry.

cc: Representative Nick Rahall (by mail)
Representative Alan Mollohan (by mail)
Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife & Parks (by mail)
Mary L. Kendall, DOI Inspector General (by mail)
David Stout, FWS (by electronic mail)
Al Manville, FWS (by electronic mail)

Attachment: Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee Recommendations (2nd released draft)

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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