FOR WIND POWER, US EXTENDS PERMIT FOR EAGLE DEATHS

- This April 18, 2013 file photo
shows a golden eagle flying over a
wind turbine on Duke energy's top of
the world wind farm in Converse
County Wyo. The Obama
administration will allow companies
to seek authorization to kill and harm
bald and golden eagles for up to 30
years without penalty in an effort to
balance some of the environmental
trade-offs of green energy. The
change, requested by the wind energy
industry and officially revealed
Friday, will provide legal protection
for the lifespan of wind farms and
other projects that obtain a permit
and do everything possible to avoid
killing the birds. Companies will also
have to commit to take additional
measures if they exceed their permit
limits or if new information suggests
eagle populations (AP Photo/Dina
Cappiello, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama
administration said Friday it will allow
some companies to kill or injure bald
and golden eagles for up to 30 years
without penalty, an effort to spur
development and investment in green
energy while balancing its
environmental consequences.
The change, requested by the wind
energy industry, will provide legal
protection for the lifespan of wind
farms and other projects for which
companies obtain a permit and make
efforts to avoid killing the birds.
An investigation by The Associated
Press earlier this year documented the
illegal killing of eagles around wind
farms, the Obama administration's
reluctance to prosecute such cases and
its willingness to help keep the scope of
the eagle deaths secret. The White
House has championed wind power, a
pollution-free energy intended to ease
global warming, as a cornerstone of
President Barack Obama's energy plan.
In other areas, too, such as the
government's support for corn-based
ethanol to reduce U.S. dependence on
gasoline, the White House has allowed
the green industry to do not-so-green
things. Another AP investigation
recently showed that ethanol has
proven far more damaging to the
environment than politicians promised
and much worse than the government
admits today.
Under the change announced Friday,
companies would have to commit to take
additional measures if they kill or
injure more eagles than they have
estimated they would, or if new
information suggests that eagle
populations are being affected. The
permits would be reviewed every five
years, and companies would have to
submit reports of how many eagles they
kill. Now such reporting is voluntarily,
and the Interior Department refuses to
release the information.
"This is not a program to kill eagles,"
said John Anderson, the director of
siting policy at the American Wind
Energy Association. "This permit
program is about conservation."
Wind farms are clusters of turbines as
tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning
rotors as wide as a passenger jet's
wingspan. Though the blades appear to
move slowly, they can reach speeds of
up to 170 mph at the tips, creating
tornado-like vortexes.
Flying eagles behave like drivers texting
on their cellphones; they don't look up.
As they scan below for food, they don't
notice the industrial turbine blades
until it is too late.
No wind energy company has obtained
permission authorizing the killing,
injuring or harassment of eagles,
although five-year permits have been
available since 2009. That puts the
companies at legal risk and discourages
private investment in renewable energy.
It also doesn't necessarily help eagles,
since without a permit, companies are
not required to take steps to reduce
their impact on the birds or report when
they kill them.
The new rule makes clear that revoking
a permit — which could undermine
investments and interest in wind power
— is a last resort under the
administration's energy policy.
"We anticipate that implementing
additional mitigation measures ... will
reduce the likelihood of amendments to,
or revocation of, the permit," the rule
said.
Conservation groups, which have been
aligned with the wind industry on other
issues, said the decision by the Interior
Department sanctioned the killing of an
American icon.
"Instead of balancing the need for
conservation and renewable energy,
Interior wrote the wind industry a
blank check," said Audubon President
and CEO David Yarnold in a statement.
The group said it will challenge the
decision.
The wind energy industry has said the
change mirrors permits already in place
for endangered species, which are more
at risk than bald and golden eagles.
Bald eagles were removed from the
endangered species list in 2007 but are
still protected under two federal laws.
The regulation published Friday was
not subjected to a full environmental
review because the administration
classified it as an administrative change.
"The federal government didn't study
the impacts of this rule change even
though the (law) requires it," said Kelly
Fuller, who formerly headed up the
wind campaign at the American Bird
Conservancy. "Instead, the feds have
decided to break the law and use eagles
as lab rats."
The Fish and Wildlife Service said the
new rule enables it to better monitor
the long-term environmental effects of
renewable energy projects.
"Our goal is to ensure that the wind
industry sites and operates projects in
ways that best minimize and avoid
impacts to eagles and other wildlife,"
the agency said in a statement.
Last month, Duke Energy Corp. pleaded
guilty to killing eagles and other birds
at two wind farms in Wyoming, the first
time a wind energy company has been
prosecuted under a law protecting
migratory birds.
A study by federal biologists in
September found that wind farms since
2008 had killed at least 67 bald and
golden eagles, a number that the
researchers said was likely
underestimated.
It's unclear what toll, if any, wind
energy companies are having on eagle
populations locally or regionally.
Gunshots, electrocutions and poisonings
almost certainly kill more bald and
golden eagles than wind farms. But with
the industry still growing, the toll could
grow, too.
A recent assessment of status of the
golden eagle in the western U.S. showed
that populations have been decreasing
in some areas and rising in others.