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Make wind towers more safe for birds

When the federal government charged seven oil companies with killing migratory birds during drilling operations in North Dakota, critics cried foul. Or was it fowl?

In any event, the critics had a point. When the justice department makes a federal case out of 28 dead birds found in oil pits while ignoring the hundreds of thousands of birds killed by wind towers, something’s not right.

But the critics are wrong when they say society should respond by cutting oil companies the same slack. That would do neither the birds nor the public any good.

Instead, the government should recognize America’s national interest in protecting migratory birds – and get tough on the wind industry as a result.

The U.S. needs electricity. But at the same time, it wants and isn’t willing to sacrifice wildlife – including birds.

So, both the wind and oil industries must be regulated with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in mind.

And where wind power is concerned, the American Bird Conservancy now has shown the way.

This week, the conservancy petitioned the government to protect “millions of birds” from wind towers “by developing regulations that will safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind-energy development.”

That description of “millions of birds” is no overstatement: “The government estimates that a minimum” – a minimum – “of 440,000 birds are killed each year by collisions with wind turbines.”

And “in the absence of clear, legally enforceable regulations, the massive expansion of wind power in the U.S. will likely result in the deaths of more than 1 million birds each year by 2020.”

Clear and legally enforceable regulations are exactly what the conservancy wants. And it’s not alone: “A coalition of more than 60 groups has called for mandatory standards and bird-smart principles in the siting and operation of wind farms.”

Please note: The conservancy isn’t calling for a moratorium on or rejection of wind power. “The American Bird Conservancy supports wind power when it is ‘bird-smart,’” the group notes.

And that’s true even though “bird-smart” operations still will result in some bird deaths. The trade-off is worth it because of wind power’s value to society, the conservancy states:

Properly sited and operated wind-energy projects “may be an important part of the solution to climate change, a phenomenon that poses an unprecedented threat to species and ecosystems.”

(Bats, too, would benefit from the recommendations. As the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis noted last month, bats “die in the thousands” at wind-power sites, “in far greater numbers than birds.”)

The voluntary guidelines that the wind industry is using aren’t enough. The cost in broken birds and battered bats is too high.

The U.S. government should act on the conservancy’s petition and adopt the rules it suggests.