The Associated Press published a thorough article examining the number of eagles and other protected birds being killed by wind energy projects – many built on remote wildlands – and highlighting the Department of Interior’s unwillingness to hold the wind industry accountable to laws meant to protect wildlife. With over 573,000 birds killed by wind turbines each year, according to the Wildlife Society Bulletin, as well as a significant number of bats, the Department of Interior can only point to superficial and voluntary guidelines that the wind industry continues to ignore.
Some environmentalists attempt to downplay the problem, as Sierra Club editor Paul Rauber did in a Sierra magazine article earlier this year that described hundreds of thousands of bird deaths each year as “trivial.” The wind industry responded to the Associated Press article with the same argument employed by Mr. Rauber, stating that buildings, cars, and cats kill even more birds each year. This logic is similar to the response from the gun lobby to the deaths of elementary school children in Newtown, claiming that hammers kill more people than assault rifles in an insensitive and nonsensical argument against new regulations. One wrong does not excuse another.
The longer we ignore, or attempt to downplay the wind industry’s impacts, the bigger the problem becomes. It is time to accept the reality that the wind industry and government leaders are not motivated by the quest for sustainability or protection of the environment, and demand mandatory guidelines that keep utility-scale renewable energy development away from important habitat.
The current voluntary guidelines for the wind industry were only implemented after the wind industry lobbied the White House and Department of Interior to oppose stricter rules that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s scientists recommended. And since those voluntary guidelines have been put into place, the wind industry continues to build projects in areas that jeopardize protected birds, including golden eagles and California condors. Now the Obama administration is also considering giving the wind industry 30-year permits to kill golden and bald eagles, which would challenge our ability to protect these species, especially as other threats continue to loom, such as urban sprawl and climate change.
This is not a zero sum game between renewable energy and wildlife. The flexibility of renewable energy technology allows us to generate clean energy in a way that minimizes or eliminates impacts on protected wildlife. Rooftop solar, solar on already-disturbed lands, and energy efficiency investments are some of our most sustainable renewable energy choices.
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