Feds Considering Longer Permits for Wind Turbines to Kill Bald Eagles

Published September 5, 2012

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering a dramatic expansion in the length of permits allowing wind power operators to kill bald eagles and other protected bird species. Wind power currently enjoys a unique exemption from Endangered Species Act protections and other federal restrictions protecting animals from deliberate or incidental killings.

Permits Expanded to 30 Years

Under current law, developers of renewable energy projects can apply for a 5-year permit that allows them to kill bald eagles in the course of conducting normal business operations. Specifically, FWS says permits “may authorize legal take that is incidental to an otherwise lawful activity, such as mortalities caused by collisions with rotating wind turbines.” 

FWS, which administers the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, is now proposing introducing 30-year permits “to better correspond to the timeframe of renewable energy projects.” 

Eagle Populations Already Suffering

The prospect of a six-fold increase in the length of FWS’s “programmatic incidental take permits” has unnerved bird advocates, many of whom are already alarmed by the number of birds and bats killed by wind farms.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other experts estimate that more than 500,000 birds and countless bats are killed annually by turbines” under the current permit system, said Paul Driessen, senior policy advisor for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power—Black Death.

Driessen noted turbines already kill close to 1,000 protected bald and golden eagles each year. In an 86 square mile area around the Altamont Pass wind farm in northern California, which would otherwise be prime eagle habitat, no eagle nests have been found for more than 20 years. 

“America’s turbines are sending some of our most important and majestic sovereigns of the sky to the edge of extinction,” Driessen said.

All for Little Electricity

Wind turbines are taking this tremendous death toll while providing very little electricity. According to the Energy Information Administration, wind power in 2011 accounted for only 3 percent of the electricity generated in the United States. 

Dan Simmons, director of regulatory and state affairs for the Institute for Energy Research, says the double standard that allows wind power to kill eagles is a real threat.

“The Obama administration’s position appears to be that it’s okay to permit bald eagles to be killed as long as it’s wind turbines that are doing the killing,” Simmons observed. “In the tradeoff between wildlife and wind power, the eagles lose.”

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