A leading bird conservation organization—American Bird Conservancy (ABC)—has announced its intention to sue the Department of the Interior (DOI), charging DOI with multiple violations of federal law in connection with its December 9, 2013, final regulation that allows wind energy companies and others to obtain 30-year permits to kill eagles without prosecution by the federal government. The previous rule provided for a maximum duration of five years for each permit.
ABC sent DOI and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) an April 30, 2014, Notice of Intent to Sue that cited DOI violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) in connection with the new eagle kill rule. ABC is being represented by the Washington, D.C. public interest law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.
“ABC has heard from thousands of citizens from across the country who are outraged that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to let the wind industry legally kill our country’s iconic Bald and Golden eagles. The rule lacks a firm foundation in scientific justification and was generated without the benefit of a full assessment of its impacts on eagle populations,” said Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.
As the notice to DOI states, “ABC strongly supports wind power and other renewable energy projects when those projects are located in an appropriate, wildlife-friendly manner and when the impacts on birds and other wildlife have been conscientiously considered and addressed before irreversible actions are undertaken. On the other hand, when decisions regarding … projects are made precipitously and without compliance with elementary legal safeguards designed to ensure that our nation’s invaluable trust resources are not placed at risk, ABC will take appropriate action to safeguard eagles and other migratory birds.”
ABC is initiating legal action in order to have the rule invalidated pending full compliance with federal environmental statutes. For example, the 30-year eagle permit rule was adopted in the absence of any NEPA document or any ESA consultation regarding impacts. It is therefore a “… glaring example of an agency action that gambles recklessly with the fate of the nation’s Bald and Golden eagle populations,” the letter says.
“Bald Eagle populations may be technically recovered, but their popularity and symbolic importance to our nation suggests that the American people are not going to tolerate the deaths of many,” said Hutchins. “Golden Eagles are another matter. Much more needs to be known about their status before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can safely decide how many wind energy companies can kill with no net loss to the population.”
The ABC Notice of Intent to Sue letter closes by saying: “The 30-year rule … undermines the nation’s longstanding commitment to conservation of eagles—unique animals that are ‘ubiquitous in U.S. culture, attesting to the widespread symbolic importance the eagle holds in U.S. society.’ ABC will pursue legal action to address these violations and ensure that eagles, and the millions of Americans who enjoy them, obtain the legal protections to which they are entitled under U.S. law.”
In 2009, 22,000 wind turbines were in operation, representing 25 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity, a fraction of the 300GW of production capacity needed to meet the 2030 federal goal of 20 percent of U.S. electrical generation coming from renewable energy. Wind energy project growth is expected to impact almost 20,000 square miles of terrestrial habitat (larger than the combined areas of New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island) and over 4,000 square miles of marine habitat by 2030, some of this critical to threatened species.
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