Rule Change a 'Federal Hunting License' to Let Wind Farms Kill Eagles

WASHINGTON -- The Interior Department issued a rule change to allow renewable energy producers lengthier permit periods under which they can "take" -- kill, injure or disturb -- bald and golden eagle populations.

Wind-energy producers used to be able to get five-year permits from the federal government that allowed the "taking" of these all-American birds during the course of production activities. Now, they'll be able to get a permit good for up to 30 years.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called the news "appalling."

“By now it’s no secret this administration will go to great lengths to tilt the scales to benefit the wind industry at great cost to taxpayers, and at the cost of killing a great symbol of freedom," Alexander said.

Interior began its permitting program in 2009 under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which authorizes the "programmatic take" of eagles, according to the department, "associated with, but not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity and does not have a long-term impact on the population."

Interior said the five-year permit "does not reflect the actual operating parameters of most renewable energy projects or other similar long-term project operations," and the 30-year permit has a review built in every five years. That review would include determining that a wind producer hasn't exceeded its limits in the number of eagles they're allowed to "take." The government claims that the five-year reports of eagle deaths will increase transparency and accountability in the industry.

The new rules also allow the permit to be transferred to new owners taking over a renewable energy project. Permit prices will also go up.

“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations.”

The final rule states "there are potential benefits to eagles from issuing permits in situations in which take is unlikely, because such 'low-risk' permits will require monitoring and reporting (although less than is required for typical long-term programmatic permits), providing us with additional data on eagle use of the project areas and potential impacts of the permitted activities."

Comments submitted against the rule change note that there has been no long-term study on the effect of today's wind farms on eagle populations, and the additional harm being allowed to eagles thanks to the administration's drive to support renewable energy could put eagles back on the endangered species list.

The Interior Department replied that if that happens, energy producers can apply for an "incidental take" permit under the Endangered Species Act to continue their activities.

One of the first species to receive protection under the ESA, the bald eagle was removed from the list in 2007.