New rule al­lows deaths of ea­gles

Wind tur­bine com­pa­nies would not face penal­ties in push for green en­ergy.

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Matthew Daly

wash­ing­ton» The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Wed­nes­day fi­nal­ized a rule that lets winden­ergy com­pa­nies op­er­ate high-speed tur­bines for up to 30 years — even if means killing or in­jur­ing thou­sands of fed­er­ally pro­tected bald and golden ea­gles.

Un­der the new rule, wind com­pa­nies and other power providers will not face a penalty if they kill or in­jure up to 4,200 bald ea­gles, nearly four times the cur­rent limit. Deaths of the more rare golden ea­gles would be al­lowed with­out penalty so long as com­pa­nies min­i­mize losses by tak­ing steps such as retrofitting power poles to reduce the risk of elec­tro­cu­tion.

The new rule will con­serve ea­gles while also spurring de­vel­op­ment of a pol­lu­tion-free en­ergy source in­tended to ease global warm­ing, a cor­ner­stone of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s en­ergy plan, said Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice Di­rec­tor Dan Ashe.

“No an­i­mal says Amer­ica like the bald ea­gle,” Ashe said in a state­ment. He said the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice is try­ing to bal­ance en­ergy de­vel­op­ment with ea­gle con­ser­va­tion.

Wind power has in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly since Obama took of­fice, and wind tur­bines as tall as 30-story build­ings are ris­ing across the coun­try. The wind tow­ers have spin­ning ro­tors as wide as a pas­sen­ger jet’s wing­span, and blades reach speeds of up to 170 mph at the tips, creat­ing tor­nado-like vor­texes.

The surge in wind power has gen­er­ally been well-re­ceived in the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mu­nity, but bird deaths — and ea­gle deaths in par­tic­u­lar — have been a source of con­tention.

The birds are not en­dan­gered species but are pro­tected un­der the Bald and Golden Ea­gle Pro­tec­tion Act and the Mi­gra­tory Bird Treaty Act.

It’s un­clear what toll wind en­ergy com­pa­nies are hav­ing on ea­gle pop­u­la­tions, al­though Ashe said as many 500 golden ea­gles a year are killed by col­li­sions with wind tow­ers, power lines, build­ings, cars and trucks. Thou­sands more are killed by gun­shots and poi­son­ings.

Re­port­ing of ea­gle mor­tal­ity is vol­un­tary, and the In­te­rior Depart­ment re­fuses to re­lease the in­for­ma­tion.

The Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice es­ti­mates there are about 143,000 bald ea­gles in the United States, and 40,000 golden ea­gles. Ashe called re­cov­ery of the bald ea­gle “one of our great­est na­tional con­ser­va­tion achieve­ments.”

The rule is set to take ef­fect in mid-Jan­uary, days be­fore Obama leaves of­fice. Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump could change the rule or scrap it, but the process would likely takes months or years.

Michael Hutchins of the Amer­i­can Bird Con­ser­vancy said Wed­nes­day that his group has “some se­ri­ous con­cerns” that the new rule will not do not enough to sus­tain pop­u­la­tions of threat­ened ea­gles.

Still, Hutchins said, he is en­cour­aged that the rule re­quires in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors to pro­vide data on bird kills to the govern­ment, rather than al­low­ing en­ergy com­pa­nies to sub­mit the in­for­ma­tion. He also praised a re­quire­ment for greater pub­lic re­port­ing of data on the numbers of birds killed by wind tur­bines.

Per­mits is­sued by the govern­ment would be re­viewed ev­ery five years.

Spirit flies from a lift to his trainer at the Na­tional Wind Tech­nol­ogy Cen­ter. The bald ea­gle was par­tic­i­pat­ing in research to help the Depart­ment of En­ergy's Na­tional Re­new­able En­ergy Lab­o­ra­tory de­velop a radar and vis­ual sys­tems that prevent bird strikes with wind tur­bines.

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