Chalk up a big win for the wind energy business, and a big loss for eagles. The Obama administration has just made it a lot easier for energy companies to operate their wind farms without fear of reprisal if the wind farm turbine blades kill birds, including golden eagles and American bald eagles.
Generous, 30-year permits are available to those companies who agree to take steps to protect the birds and report fatalities. If their wind power operations kill more birds than estimated, they would have to take additional protective measures. But the overriding goal is to keep the turbines spinning.
To date, bird mortality caused by wind farms has gone largely unreported. Voluntary, five-year permits have been available since 2009, but wind energy companies have avoided them.
It appears the Obama administration is bending over backwards to make sure bird mortalities don’t get in the way of an aggressive expansion of wind energy. But at what cost to the nation’s iconic symbol, a bird that’s had to fight back from the brink of extinction and was finally removed from the federal Endangered Species Act list in 2007?
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In the mid-20th century, the bald eagle and other raptors were under assault from the pesticide DDT, which caused their egg shells to thin, leading to major reproductive problems for the birds. Now they face a new threat, which, ironically, comes from a national push to expand renewable energy supplies. The dark side of some green energy sources have reared their ugly heads.
While it’s important to diversify national and global energy supplies, it must not be at the irreversible expense of unsuspecting raptors killed and maimed in flight when they collide with wind turbine blades that can reach speeds of 170 miles per hour at their tips, creating a vortex akin to a tornado.
Conservation groups point out, and rightfully so, that the new rule is still voluntary, not mandatory. So while some companies may try to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to craft workable permits, others will go about business as usual and, if they kill birds, hope they don’t get caught.
The industry can do better. Federal regulators can do better. Just as important: The eagles deserve better.