A dead eagle is a dead eagle.
On this, we agree with House Republicans who want more information on whether the White House is holding wind farms to a different standard for eagle deaths than oil companies. They say the administration is deliberately keeping secret the number of protected birds killed by wind farms.
When an eagle is killed, whether it’s felled by a turbine or drowned in an oil company’s waste pit, it matters. Killing a protected species is a federal crime, and the wind companies and administration should be open about the number of deaths that occur – for both wind energy and oil companies.
Consider this sequence of events:
- In March 2013, an Associated Press investigation finds that the Obama administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind farm for killing protected bird species.
- In November 2013, in a first-of-its-kind punishment, Duke Energy Renewables settles with the federal government for $1 million, admitting it violated a federal act in connection with the deaths of more than 160 birds at its wind farm sites in Wyoming.
- The next month, the administration announces it will allow wind farms to kill the birds without fear of reprisal for up to 30 years, as long as the companies have permits and make efforts to avoid killing protected birds.
Maybe the timing is a coincidence. But wind energy companies – and the public – could be forgiven for thinking the administration, a champion of the turbines, has made a very visible, easy example of Duke and is now eager to look the other way.
Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee want to know if the administration’s push for wind power goes even deeper. They issued subpoenas this month with the goal of forcing the White House to turn over internal documents with uncensored details on how many birds are killed by wind energy companies compared with oil companies, and whether those deaths were punished in the same way.
Oil companies, on the other hand, have paid richly, as they should. BP, for example, was fined $100 million for causing death and injury to birds during the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
But it doesn’t matter whether oil companies or wind farms cause the deaths. The transgression is the same, and the knowledge should be public.
We’re not naive – we understand that energy production, no matter what type, comes with trade-offs. Bird deaths are just one very easily measurable way to tally that cost.
But to plan our energy future and find a reasonable balance, we must know the true price
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