Underscoring the outgoing Obama administration’s commitment to renewable energy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) sanctioned the regulated killing of bald and golden eagles by the wind-energy industry.
In mid-December, FWS issued a final rule allowing wind-energy companies to apply for 30-year “incidental-take” permits, exempting them from prosecution under the Golden and Bald Eagle Protection Act for unintentionally killing eagles, up to a predetermined amount every year.
The policy, which went into effect on January 15, covers collisions between eagles and wind turbines, towers, and power lines serving wind installations. Under the plan, permit holders can be fined if they kill more eagles than their permit allows.
FWS first unveiled the 30-year permit plan in December 2013, triggering lawsuits by conservation groups concerned about its expected effect on eagles and other wildlife. In 2015, a federal judge overturned the rule, saying FWS had failed to properly assess the plan’s impact on federally protected eagle populations.
Recommended Kill Ratios
In response to the judge’s decision, FWS released its assessment of eagle numbers, including how many eagles it thought could be killed without endangering their populations.
FWS said it does not know how many eagles are killed by wind facilities each year, but it estimated the roughly 40,000 golden eagles in the United States could withstand the loss of 2,000 birds annually. FWS concluded 4,200 bald eagles out of an estimated 140,000 birds could be killed annually without endangering the species.
John Droz, a North Carolina-based energy researcher, says killing eagles may be too high a price to pay for wind energy.
“When such serious tradeoffs are on the table, one fundamental question needs to be asked and answered: What is the scientifically proven net societal benefit of industrial wind energy?” Droz said. “Only after we have scientifically answered that question can we accurately decide whether raptor carnage is a worthwhile tradeoff.
“Unfortunately, there is no scientific proof industrial wind power provides a net societal benefit, so such a tradeoff seems extremely ill advised,” Droz said.
‘Coddled’ Wind Industry
For Craig Rucker, executive director for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, the impact of renewable energy on eagle populations is only part of a larger problem: the federal government’s ongoing intervention in energy markets.
“The wind industry has been coddled for decades,” Rucker said. “It enjoys subsidies from U.S. taxpayers, mandates from state governments, and permission slips from the Fish and Wildlife Service that enable it to kill, without penalty, a certain amount of eagles every year, all for a source of electricity that is neither affordable nor reliable.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.