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Latest federal guidelines fail to make wind power bird-smart, break federal laws, and rely on unlikely voluntary compliance

(Washington, D.C., September 20, 2011) The Department of the Interior (DOI) has released a revised, third version of its voluntary wind development siting and operational guidelines that fails to ensure that bird deaths at wind farms are minimized, says American Bird Conservancy, the nation’s leading bird conservation organization.

Furthermore, the public has been given only ten days to comment. The final opportunity for the public to discuss these guidelines with DOI will be at a federal advisory committee meeting today and tomorrow.

“ABC is very much pro wind energy. America has the potential to create a truly green energy source that does not unduly harm birds, but the Department of the Interior is squandering the opportunity to be ‘smart from the start’,” said Kelly Fuller, Wind Campaign Coordinator for American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation organization. “The latest draft of the wind guidelines is not only voluntary, making industry compliance unlikely, but also offers assurances that wind companies won’t be prosecuted for illegally killing federally protected birds such as Bald and Golden Eagles. These guidelines set a dangerous precedent for other energy industries to seek the same freedom to break America’s wildlife protection laws without repercussions,” said Fuller.

“Astonishingly, the current draft of the guidelines allows wind power companies to unilaterally determine whether they are in compliance with the ’guidelines’ and, on that basis, to immunize themselves from any prosecution under federal wildlife protection statutes regardless of how many eagles, hawks, warblers, or other protected species they wind up taking. This would be unfathomable as applied to any other energy sector or, for that matter, any other regulatory sphere. This goes way beyond merely being bad policy; it is a flagrant violation of the protective schemes adopted in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act,” said Eric Glitzenstein, a Founding Partner at Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal, a Washington, D.C. based public-interest law firm.

One wind farm in California is already estimated to have killed over 2,000 eagles in what would appear to be significant violations of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Yet the wind company has yet to be prosecuted or even charged, and has only implemented meaningful operational changes in recent years following legal action taken not by the federal government, but by environmental groups.

This version of the wind industry guidelines was issued on September 13, 2011. The Department of the Interior will accept comments on the proposal until September 23, 2011.

“Giving a mere ten days to look over this 130-page package makes it almost impossible for the public to provide a meaningful response,” Fuller said.

Recommendations on wind energy were developed over a two-year period by an industry-dominated, 22-member Federal Advisory Committee and forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior in March 2010. Over the next year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists made a series of changes to those recommendations to improve protection for birds. Those revised guidelines were then published for public comment in February 2011. An overwhelming number of the comments called for the guidelines to be strengthened, not weakened. The guidelines also underwent scientific peer review.

“Right now we have a chance to get wind power right from the start – with little added costs. But if we push these voluntary guidelines forward without making them bird-smart to protect the environment, it may be our children who may ultimately regret our hasty decisions,” said Fuller.

A second set of proposed guidelines was then issued by DOI on July 12, 2011, but rather than strengthening the initial draft, it removed many key bird protection elements, reversing recommendations from professional DOI wildlife staff and adding unrealistic wind project approval deadlines that ABC concludes would lead to “rubber-stamping” of wind development.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that in 2009, the wind industry was killing about 440,000 birds per year, yet has ignored its own estimate. With the Federal Government targeting a 12-fold increase in wind generated electricity by the year 2030, annual bird mortality is expected to increase into the millions absent meaningful changes in the industry. Species of conservation concern appear to be particularly at risk including the Golden Eagle, Greater Sage-Grouse and the endangered Whooping Crane.

More than 60 groups and over 20,000 individuals organized by ABC have called for mandatory standards and bird-smart principles in the siting and operation of wind farms. The coalition represents a broad cross-section of respected national and local groups, as well as scientists, bird lovers, conservationists, and other concerned citizens.


American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization which conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats while building capacity in the bird conservation movement.