Wind company that sued to block release of bird death data pleads guilty to killing birds in Wyoming
Pacificorp pled guilty this week in U.S. District Court in Wyoming to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in connection with the deaths of protected birds, including golden eagles, at two of the company’s wind projects in Wyoming.
Pacificorp recently sued the federal government to block release to Associated Press of bird death data from its wind energy facilities, as ECM reported.
Kelly Fuller, executive director of Protect Our Communities in San Diego’s East County, hailed the prosecution as “good news” that “will help ensure that future generations of Americans can enjoy majestic eagles just as we do today. Wind energy needs to be developed very carefully or else it can kill many birds and bats. “
Fuller adds, “This prosecution raises questions about what will happen at the proposed Tule Wind project in eastern San Diego County.” Last August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the project’s application for an eagle take permit and asked the project to reapply, this time for a permit covering the entire proposed facility, not just the ridgeline portion. U.S. Fish and Wildlife has also repeatedly asked for the project’s ridgeline portion to be redesigned or moved.
Fuller states, “We can have clean energy without putting San Diego’s decreasing Golden Eagle population at greater risk with the Tule Wind project. Increasing energy efficiency programs and putting more solar panels on the roofs of San Diego homes and businesses would be a win-win for both eagles and people.”
The charges against Pacificorp came after bodies of 38 golden eagles and 336 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows were found by the company at its “Seven Mile Hill” and “Glenrock/Rolling Hills” wind projects in Carbon and Converse Counties since 2009. The company operates 237 industrial-scale turbines at those projects.
Under a plea agreement with the government, Pacificorp, an Oregon-based company, was sentenced to pay fines, restitution and community service totaling $2.5 million. The company was also was placed on probation for five years and must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four wind projects in Wyoming.
Sam Hirsch, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Enviornmental and Natural Resource Division, says, “PacifiCorp Energy built two of its Wyoming wind projects in a manner it knew would likely result in the deaths of eagles and other protected birds.” PacifiCorp has with this plea agreement has committed to a comprehensive plan in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to seek eagle take permits for each project, and to work to prevent future eagle deaths.
The government alleged that PacifiCorp Energy ignored guidance from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in siting its turbines. The agency’s director Dan Ashe states, “Improperly sited and operated wind energy facilities can kill significant numbers of federally protected birds and other species. That’s why it’s imperative that wind energy developers work with the Fish and Wildlife Service to minimize these impacts at every stage in the process.”
More than 1,000 species of birds, including bald and golden eagles, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which provides criminal misdemeanor sanctions for killing a protected species without permits, no matter how the death occurs. The maximum penalty is $15,000 or twice the gross gain or loss resulting from the offense, and five years’ probation.
Wind turbines can kill birds through collision with turbines or wind testing towers, electrocution from electric lines or nest abandonment due to habitat disruption.
The $400,000 fine paid by Pacificorp will be provided to the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund. The company will also pay $200,000 in restitution to the State of Wyoming, and perform community service by making a $1.9 million payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for projects aimed at preserving golden eagles, increasing monitoring and finding ways to minimize interactions between eagles and commercial wind facilities. The company must implement a migratory bird compliance plan. According to court documents, PacifiCorp will spend $600,000 a year implementing the compliance plan.
The case was investigated by Special Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and prosecuted by Senior Counsel Robert S. Anderson of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Conder of the District of Wyoming.
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