Environmentalists Sue over Proposed California Wind Farm

Published June 7, 2012

Three influential environmental activist groups are suing the federal government over plans to build a 100-turbine wind farm on federal land in Kern County, California. 

Condors, Eagles at Risk

The suit, filed by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), alleges the proposed North Sky River project poses a threat to the endangered condor, the protected golden eagle, and other birds. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, the suit says the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to account for the wind farm’s negative impact on the birds.

The environmental activist groups categorically reject BLM’s determination the project will have “no significant impact” on the environment and “no effect” on endangered species. Among other things, the groups point out wind turbines at the adjacent Pine Tree wind farm have killed at least eight federally protected golden eagles in the past two years, among the approximately 1,600 birds killed by the wind turbines each year. 

Although there are no reports of condors having been killed at the Pine Tree project, bird advocates fear it’s only a matter of time before endangered condors in the area suffer the same fate as other birds killed by the wind turbines.  

Feds Document Likely Bird Kills

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has documented more than 50 golden eagle sightings and 14 nests within 10 miles of the proposed North Sky River wind farm. According to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife report, the proposed North Sky River wind farm will likely kill at least as many birds as the Pine Tree facility. 

“It’s reasonable to estimate that the proposed [North Sky River] project would have avian fatality rates equal to or greater than those observed at the adjacent Pine Tree Wind facility,”  the report concluded.

Holding Developers Accountable

Wildlife advocates are increasingly insisting wind farms be held accountable to protections in the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. To date, the federal government has turned a blind eye to routine killings of endangered birds by wind turbines. 

“Green groups are finally starting to realize that their pet energy projects have real environmental impacts,” said Daniel Simmons, director of regulatory and state affairs at the Institute for Energy Research. “Everyone knows that wind turbines kill birds and bats, but for far too long, many environmentalists have given wind turbines a pass.”

“In energy, as with anything in life, there are costs and benefits,” Simmons explained. “And one of the environmental costs of wind power is bird kills.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.