An environmental group said today that it’s considering appealing a judge’s dismissal of its lawsuit alleging that wind-farm operators in the Livermore area violate state law by killing migratory birds.
In a decision issued last week, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw said windmill operators aren’t violating the state’s unfair competition law because the Center for Biological Diversity didn’t lose property or money.
The center, which filed its suit in 2004, had claimed that the birds are part of the public trust and therefore are the property of the public.
Birds that are killed by flying into turbine blades or geing electrocuted by transmission lines in the 50,000-acre Altamont Wind Resource Area include golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, burrowing owls and other protected species.
Jeff Miller, the Bay Area Wildlands coordinator with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the group is considering the appeal because it strongly disagrees with Sabraw’s ruling.
Miller said, “We think the judge got it wrong – the court’s ruling contends that the public has no redress for ongoing harm to wildlife when regulators fail to act.”
He said, “We call on the California attorney general and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enforce our wildlife protection laws. We’re losing an appalling number of rare golden eagles and western burrowing owls at Altamont.”
Richard Wiebe, the group’s attorney, said “The court’s ruling conflicts with more than 100 years of California Supreme Court rulings that clearly establish that California’s wildlife is property owned by the people of California.”
Wiebe said, “It also conflicts with California Supreme Court rulings holding that citizens and public interest groups can sue to enforce public trust property rights.”
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, research by raptor experts for the California Energy Commission indicates that each year Altamont Pass wind turbines kill an estimated 880 to 1,330 raptors.
The lawsuit alleged that these killings are in violation of federal and state wildlife protection laws such as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and several California Fish and Game code provisions.
The defendants in the lawsuit include FPL Energy, GREP Bay Area Holdings, Green Ridge Power, Altamont Power, enXco, SeaWest Windpower, Windworks, Altamont Winds and Pacific Winds.
Miller said the Center for Biological Diversity supports renewable energy, including wind power, as an important part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But Miller said, “The unacceptable numbers of bird deaths at Altamont are caused by obsolete, first generation turbines that were poorly placed to begin with.”
He said the turbines could be replaced with more bird-friendly technology.
Miller said, “The bird deaths are preventable and the operators must be forced to resolve this problem. A few intransigent companies should not be allowed to needlessly slaughter wildlife and impede the expansion of renewable energy.”
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