Obama Administration Proposes 30-Year Eagle Kill Permits

Published January 18, 2014

The Obama administration announced a proposal to grant 30-year permits for wind turbine facilities to kill bald and golden eagles, causing an uproar among environmentalist groups.

President Obama frequently refers to wind power as a key component in reducing carbon dioxide emissions he says are causing a global warming crisis. Wind power generation, like less-expensive hydroelectric and nuclear power, does not produce carbon dioxide emissions. Nevertheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports U.S. wind farms, while still producing only 3 percent of the nation’s electricity, kill an average of 440,000 birds every year. An independent, peer-reviewed 2013 study reported 1.4 million annual kills when adding bats to the equation.

Rally for Eagles
Federal law prohibits killing bald and golden eagles, whether deliberately or as an unintended consequence of doing business. Nevertheless, federal officials have largely turned a blind eye to the massive death toll caused by wind turbines. Under present law, wind companies can apply for a five-year permit for incidental eagle kills, though few actually bother to apply. The Obama administration proposes extending the permits from five years to 30.

The National Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Bird Conservancy, and the Conservation Law Center are some of the environmental organizations opposing the permits.

The National Audubon Society referred to the 30-year permit proposal as “a stunningly bad move.”

“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” observed Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold in a press statement. “It’s outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol, the bald eagle. Audubon will continue to look for reasonable, thoughtful partners to wean America off fossil fuels because that should be everyone’s highest priority. We have no choice but to challenge this decision, and all options are on the table.”

“This rule could lead to many unnecessary deaths of eagles. And that’s a wrong-headed approach,” said Natural Resources Defense Council president Frances Beinecke in a press statement. “We can, and must, protect wildlife as we promote clean, renewable energy. The Fish and Wildlife Service missed an opportunity to issue a rule that would do just that. This rule sets up a false choice that we intend to fight to reverse.”

False Premise Supports Wind Power
John Droz, a physicist and wind energy expert, said there is no scientific proof wind energy is making any meaningful contribution toward reducing global warming.

“The Obama administration starts with the position that we are facing imminent destruction of the planet, due to global warming. Once that unproven position has been accepted, all negative consequences, such as human health impacts, property losses, environmental destruction, bird and bat deaths, etc., are simply ‘unfortunate collateral causalities’ of a larger war,” Droz said.

Unavoidable Destruction
Tom Stacy, a wind energy expert and cofounder of Save Western Ohio, said the only measure wind farms can take to reduce death to birds and eagles is to remove turbines from habitat areas.

“Migratory routes and predator summer/winter habitat areas should not have industrial structures like these, especially in the numbers required to produce significant electricity,” Stacy said.  “Because air is low in mass and velocity, the only way to produce large quantities of electricity is through enormous numbers—in the thousands—of massive wind rotors with diameters of 300 to 400 feet.  Federal wildlife officials should create firm no-development zones, but they are almost certainly hampered from doing so by the Obama administration.”

“The wind industry is continuously saying things like new measures are proving effective at reducing bird and bat deaths, yet there is no independent proof of their claims, and they aren’t implemented across the board anyway,” Droz said.

A new peer-reviewed study published in the December 2013 issue of Biological Conservation shows newer, taller wind turbines actually kill more birds than shorter, older ones.

“We found support for an increase in mortality with increasing turbine hub height,” the study found.

“Evaluation of risks to birds is warranted prior to continuing a widespread shift to taller wind turbines,” the study recommended.

“Wildlife mortality from collisions with wind turbines is the most direct, visible, and well-documented impact of wind energy development,” the study added.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.