Today we honor Americans who died serving in the armed forces. Unfortunately, if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) gets its way, this Memorial Day will be the last before an increased slaughter of our national bird, the bald eagle, by wind turbines. The FWS is proposing essentially to exempt, for three decades, the owners of wind farms and solar generating stations from any penalties if bald eagles and other birds were to get sliced-up in turbine blades.
This shameful proposal would increase the number of years wind farms get federal permits to kill birds from five to 30. Wind turbines pose an even greater threat to golden eagles because they inhabit the mountain passes and adjacent plains that make good sites for wind farms. Also, bald eagles are increasing in number, but golden eagles in the lower 48 states may well be declining.
For decades, the dirty secret of wind power is that turbines — especially wind farms that consist of multiple turbines in close proximity — are death traps for birds. At just one wind farm in California — Altamont Pass, located thirty miles east of Oakland — an annual average of 67 golden eagles and nearly 2,000 other raptors of various species have been killed over the past 30 years. Nationwide, the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates 440,000 birds are killed annually by wind turbines, but the total is likely much higher because scavengers get many carcasses before they can be counted.
Despite this carnage and the likelihood that the rapidly increasing number of wind turbines will mean many more birds killed in the near future, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal essentially ignores the issue. The proposal consists of 12 pages focusing on costs and administrative issues. The agency claims that giving wind farms the go-ahead to kill birds for up to 30 years would have “negligible new effects” — a case of see no evil, speak no evil if ever there was one.
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal is all the more outrageous because the agency, along with the Department of Justice (DOJ), has aggressively gone after affordable but politically incorrect forms of energy, such as oil and coal, as well as hard rock mining. Just last month, DOJ fined mining firm Freeport-McMoRan $6.8 million for various environmental violations, including inadvertently killing birds, at its copper mine in Arizona.
In August 2011, the Department announced it was charging seven oil companies operating in North Dakota with violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for killing a total of — brace yourself — 28 birds. Furthermore, none of the bird species were uncommon or declining, as opposed to the bald and golden eagles, as well as many of the other species of hawks and owls that are regularly killed by wind turbines. DOJ dismissed charges against one company, and fortunately sanity prevailed for the other six. The judge dismissed the charges against the three that went to court and rejected plea agreements made by the other three.
Over the past several decades the Justice Department “has prosecuted hundreds of cases” against companies in the gas, oil, and electrical generation industries, according to Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute. However, the Department, under both Democratic and Republican administrations (who says bipartisanship is dead?), has never indicted a wind farm company for killing birds. So the message from the federal government is clear. If you’re generating “green” energy, you get a green light to kill as many eagles and other birds as you want. But if you’re producing carbon-based energy and happen to kill a few birds accidentally, then the feds will come down on you with an iron fist.
Across America, many bird species are coming under increasing pressure from a wide variety of threats. Uncommon species, like the bald eagle, and declining species, including those protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, will be especially hard hit by the growing number of wind farms. While our national bird and other species need our respect and help, the government agency that is supposed to protect them is abetting their slaughter