Wind power is an important component of the ongoing effort to use less fossil fuel in favor of more renewable power sources. According to the Institute for Energy Research, wind power accounts for about 3.5 percent of all U.S. electricity generation.
The Obama administration properly advocates wind power and policy to accommodate its growth. But a new Department of the Interior rule, giving the industry a free pass for the deaths of bald and golden eagles, should be rescinded. Wind turbine operators would be allowed to accidentally kill eagles for up to 30 years without fear of federal prosecution.
Eagles no longer are covered under the Endangered Species Act, but they are protected under separate laws.
Under the rule, companies would have to take protective action if they kill or injure more eagles than they had estimated, or if eagle populations are adversely affected. The permits would be reviewed every five years, and companies would have to submit reports of how many eagles they kill. Now, such reporting is voluntary and, incredibly, the Interior Department refuses to release the data.
The rule itself begs the question: If operators have to establish additional protective measures if they kill too many eagles, why not just mandate those measures in the first place?
There is no exact data on eagle deaths. It is known that about 60 are killed each year in the massive Altamont Pass wind farm in California. Federal biologists last documented the deaths of 67 other eagles at wind farms since 2008, but noted that is far from a complete toll. In November, Duke Energy pleaded guilty to killing 14 eagles at wind farms it operates in Wyoming. And the Associated Press last year documented eagle deaths at several wind farms.
Rather than giving the industry a pass, the Department of the Interior should mandate use of all available technology to protect birds and that wind farm siting decisions take into account potential harm to eagle populations.
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