Soar­ing sym­bol falls to ex­cep­tion for pro­tec­tion

Wind farm gets pass to ea­gle car­nage

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

DENVER | By sac­ri­fic­ing a few bald ea­gles, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion may have opened a can of worms.

In a bid to give al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sources a boost, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice qui­etly granted a Cal­i­for­nia wind en­ergy farm a per­mit to kill a limited num­ber of en­dan­gered bald and gold ea­gles that get sliced up in its gi­ant tur­bines. But the free pass is spark­ing anger from wildlife ad­vo­cates and from free mar­ket ad­vo­cates who ask why they don’t qual­ify for the same dis­pen­sa­tion.

The Amer­i­can Bird Con­ser­vancy filed a law­suit last week against the 6-month-old federal rule ex­pand­ing per­mits for killing bald and gold ea­gles from a max­i­mum of five to 30 years, charg­ing the In­te­rior Depart­ment with “mul­ti­ple vi­o­la­tions of federal law.”

Con­ser­vancy spokesman Bob Johns said the or­ga­ni­za­tion is on board with green en­ergy but the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has gone too far with in­cen­tives for the wind in­dus­try. The in­cen­tives in­clude op­tional guide­lines on en­vi­ron­men­tal rules and pro­duc­tion tax cred­its.

“We know we need re­new­ables, and that’s fine. We’re not say­ing shut them down, we’re just say­ing, ‘ Hey, enough’s enough, bring them into the same ball­park that ev­ery­one else is in,’” said Mr. Johns. “Give them reg­u­la­tions, tell them where they need to site these things, where they shouldn’t site them. Don’t give them a set of, ‘Gee, it would be nice if you did this, but if you don’t, it’s OK.’”

Last week, the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice ruf­fled feath­ers by is­su­ing what of­fi­cials called a first-of-its-kind per­mit that al­lows a 50-tur­bine North­ern Cal­i­for­nia wind farm to kill up to five golden ea­gles over five years. In ex­change, the de­vel­oper agreed to retro­fit 133 util­ity poles to re­duce ea­gle deaths by elec­tro­cu­tion.

“We can’t solve the prob­lem of ea­gle mor­tal­ity at wind farms overnight,” Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice Di­rec­tor Daniel Ashe said in a state­ment. “But this com­mon-sense so­lu­tion mer­its the sup­port of all who ad­vo­cate for the long-term con­ser­va­tion of ea­gles.”

“This is not a pro­gram to kill ea­gles,” John An­der­son, di­rec­tor of sit­ing pol­icy at the Amer­i­can Wind En­ergy As­so­ci­a­tion, told The As­so­ci­ated Press late last year. “This per­mit pro­gram is about con­ser­va­tion.”

Among those stunned by the agency’s move were res­i­dents of King Cove, Alaska. In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Sally Jewell ruled in De­cem­ber that those in the re­mote fish­ing vil­lage could not build an 11-mile gravel road to a nearby air­port be­cause it would af­fect eel­grass that serves as a way-stop meal for mi­gra­tory birds.

“We’d have much less im­pact on the birds with our road than these wind farms have on the ea­gles,” said Della Trum­ble, a spokes­woman for the King Cove Corp. and the Ag­daagux tribe. “It’s an­other slap in the face. It doesn’t make sense.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pref­er­en­tial treat­ment is de­signed to help boost the wind en­ergy in­dus­try as part of a strat­egy to re­duce fos­sil fuel use, which Pres­i­dent Obama has de­scribed as a nec­es­sary step in com­bat­ing cli­mate change.

“The changes in this per­mit­ting pro­gram will help the re­new­able en­ergy in­dus­try and oth­ers de­velop projects that can op­er­ate in the longer term while en­sur­ing bald and golden ea­gles con­tinue to thrive for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” Ms. Jewell said in a De­cem­ber state­ment.

But free mar­ket ad­vo­cates ar­gue that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is play­ing fa­vorites by let­ting the wind in­dus­try by­pass reg­u­la­tions that hold back other en­ergy providers. The Bureau of Land Man­age­ment de­cided last week to cor­don off 400,000 acres from en­ergy de­vel­op­ment in Utah and Colorado in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a list­ing to pre­serve the num­bers of the Gunnison sage-grouse.

Michael San­doval, an en­ergy an­a­lyst with the In­de­pen­dence In­sti­tute in Denver, said there is in­evitably enor­mous ou­trage when sea gulls or ducks are coated with oil af­ter a spill, but much less con­cern over wind tur­bines that chop ea­gles in half or cause bats to ex­plode.

“Pre­ferred en­ergy pol­icy fa­vor­ing wind pro­duces dou­ble stan­dards. Think of the ran­cor if oil and gas com­pa­nies were al­lowed such a govern­ment dis­pen­sa­tion,” said Mr. San­doval. “Thirty years rep­re­sents not only the the­o­ret­i­cal life cy­cle of the tur­bines them­selves, but an eter­nity in pub­lic pol­icy. No other in­dus­try is al­lowed ‘tak­ings’ per­mits that last an en­tire gen­er­a­tion.”

The In­te­rior Depart­ment’s de­ci­sion to ex­tend by six­fold the per­mit pe­riod prompted Mr. San­doval to cre­ate a video game, “Greed En­ergy Kills,” which de­picts cartoon birds and bats try­ing to avoid tur­bines.

Wind farms typ­i­cally fea­ture clus­ters of tur­bines that can rise as high as a 30-story build­ing, with whirling ro­tors that can reach more than 150 mph at the tips of the blades. Ea­gles scan­ning the ground be­low for a meal of­ten do not see the dan­ger un­til it is too late.

The con­ser­vancy law­suit cites the 1940 Bald and Golden Ea­gle Pro­tec­tion Act, which pro­vides fines and jail time for those who kill ea­gles on pur­pose or by ac­ci­dent. The law even pro­hibits pos­ses­sion of ea­gle feath­ers, talons and beaks.

In 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice added a pro­vi­sion to the 1940 law al­low­ing per­mits for ea­gle kills when they are in­ci­den­tal to an other­wise le­gal ac­tiv­ity, such as con­struc­tion or trans­porta­tion projects.

Since the 1980s, wind tur­bines have killed an es­ti­mated 2,000 to 3,000 ea­gles, but the in­dus­try has paid only one fine, Mr. Johns said.

“If you or I get caught with an ea­gle feather, we’ve got some se­ri­ous ex­plain­ing to do. We’re go­ing to pay a hefty fine,” said Mr. Johns. “There’s no ex­cep­tion noted in the law for the wind in­dus­try. The no­tion that some­how they’re en­ti­tled when the law doesn’t pro­vide for it is ridicu­lous.”

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