Last year, the Sierra Club signed comments with several other environmental organizations supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) proposed voluntary guidelines for avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating wildlife impacts from wind energy projects (see Desert Report September 2011 article for description of draft guidelines). The rationale was that given the limited resources and authority of FWS at this time, working with the wind industry through voluntary guidelines offered a chance to actually extend protection to endangered and threatened species in the near term. However, some Club activists were properly concerned that voluntary guidelines were inadequate to address the serious impacts of wind energy on birds and bats. Desert Energy Subcommittee Chair Joan Taylor brought this to the attention of Beyond Coal staff and volunteer leader Dick Fiddler and the Club’s Vice President Dave Scott. After a review, a decision was made to add to and clarify our position on these guidelines. A letter signed by Michael Brune was then sent to Interior Secretary Salazar making it clear that ultimately the protective guidelines must be mandatory and that the resources and authority given to FWS must be enhanced so that they have the tools to do this important job. The following is the text of the letter.
January 26, 2012
Secretary Ken Salazar
U.S Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Dear Secretary Salazar,
The Sierra Club writes to clarify its position regarding the draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines currently being considered by the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Sierra Club cosigned the May 19, 2011, letter submitted by Defenders of Wildlife, the Audubon Society, and other organizations requesting changes to the draft guidelines and supporting their codification. Though we did not participate directly in the committee, in that letter we supported the concept of the Wind Turbine Guidelines Advisory Committee and the idea that environmentalists and the wind industry could work jointly to achieve protection for birds and other wildlife species that outstrips the results that are occurring under the current regulatory regime. The letter acknowledged the need for cooperation and good faith to compile the necessary information to achieve the best outcomes for species protection while continuing to increase our national inventory or wind generation.
The Sierra Club strongly supports wind energy. Accelerating the shift to cleaner energy sources must take place in order to have a chance to stem the worst predicted effects of climate change and reduce the impact of fossil fuels on public health and the environment. However, that May 19 letter catalyzed a broader discussion within the Sierra Club about real threats to iconic species in some of the most critical habitat and migration sites in the nation, and the discussion exposed concerns that a framework of voluntary standards will not adequately protect those most vulnerable species in the places where they are most at risk. In the longer term, the Sierra Club believes that a system of mandatory guidelines is necessary, and that it must be properly framed to both address the agency’s responsibilities to protect wildlife under the several relevant statutes and also meet the planet’s immediate need for renewable energy sources. Such mandatory guidelines must be accompanied by allocation of sufficient staff and other resources to the Fish and Wildlife Service to allow the agency to implement practical guidelines in a fair and timely manner, so that adequately sited projects can proceed as quickly as possible.
We agree with the concerns raised by the Advisory Committee and others that FWS does not have the resources and other support at this time to fully carry out the dual priorities of careful protection of species and timely approval of well sited projects. The Sierra Club will continue to advocate for such resources and support. Until that is realized, FWS must meet the challenge of doing the best it can to fulfill the responsibilities of species and land protection while also furthering good wind projects.
The Sierra Club believes that the wildlife values embodied in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other statutes should be protected by the full weight of the enacted laws and strong enforcement thereof. We also understand that zero wildlife impacts are not consistent with expanding wind generation, and that getting wind energy right requires the development of technology and practice in a way that increases effectiveness and reduces cost over time.
While, ideally, that would be best accomplished in a nonadversarial atmosphere free of the constant threat of litigation, our experience is that less scrupulous actors will exploit cracks in the system unless minimum enforcement standards are in place.
For any interim system to be as effective as possible, the industry must display exemplary responsibility on a consistent basis. Similarly, the FWS must show enough aggressiveness and energy to demand quality planning and mitigation, or to make real the threat of sanctions and prosecution. An abdication of those responsibilities on either side will result in the failure of such an interim system.
Whatever interim system is put into place, the Sierra Club will be watching its performance closely. Should developers routinely fail to submit quality plans, or should the agency fail to adequately police their performance in a way that results in the endangerment of critical species, the Sierra Club will not hesitate to use the remedies available to us to protect wildlife in specific locales or to ultimately achieve a more protective regulatory regime. In addition, the Sierra Club will press for resources and standards which allow prompt approval of adequately sited projects.
The Sierra Club looks forward to having an active and productive role in helping to assure that the FWS is fully able to carry out these important responsibilities in a balanced manner. We are happy to discuss our concerns with you st your convenience.
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