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Bird Conservancy Sues Feds Over Wind Turbine Eagle-Killing Permits

[node:summary]The American Bird Conservancy will sue the U.S. government over wind turbine rules that award permits to accidentally kill eagles.
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The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is suing the U.S. government to try to stop the killing of eagles in wind turbines.

“ABC has heard from thousands of citizens from across the country who are outraged that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to let the wind industry legally kill our country’s iconic Bald and Golden eagles,” said Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC's Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign, in a statement on April 30. “The rule lacks a firm foundation in scientific justification and was generated without the benefit of a full assessment of its impacts on eagle populations.”

The Osage are among those who have already voiced objections, first last June when it raised the alarm about an application by Wind Energy Group to allow for the deaths of up to 120 eagles over the life of its 94-turbine wind project. 

RELATED: Osage Nation Objects to Wind-Turbine Company’s Potentially Precedent-Setting Request to Kill Bald Eagles

On April 30 the Bird Conservancy sent Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe a notice of intent to sue for “Violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act In Connection with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Final Rule Authorizing the Issuance of Eagle ‘Take’ Permits for Thirty Years,” the document’s title reads.

Under the new rule, which the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced in December, companies can apply for permits lasting from five to 30 years to kill birds as collateral damage to their wind-turbine and other industrial operations. Basically the permits exempt companies from punishment in the event of an eagle killing. In return, the DOI said, companies must prove they are doing as much as humanly possible to avoid such casualties.

Opponents of the new rule, which include the National Audubon Society as well as the Osage and the American Bird Conservancy, say the measure constitutes giving permission for the wanton killing of eagles in wind turbines. 

RELATED: Feds OK Eagle Deaths From Wind Turbines; Osage Object

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The ABC suit holds that the new rule violates several federal laws enacted to protect wildlife and habitat, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act, and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

“Consequently, ABC is initiating legal action in order to have the rule invalidated pending full compliance with federal statutes that are designed to ensure that the environmental impacts of, and alternatives to, agency actions are thoroughly analyzed before those actions are implemented,” the notice stated.

Although the rule is applied to all industrial operations, the National Review and others have noted that its treatment of the wind-power industry differs from the hundreds of lawsuits that the same two federal agencies have levied against the oil, gas and electric industries over the years for the unauthorized killing of birds. In an extensive article the National Review highlights one example to the contrary, the fining of Duke Energy last year for the deaths of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds at two wind projects in Wyoming.

RELATED: Eagle-Killing Wind Turbine Company Fined $1 Million

The National Review laid out some stark stats, quoting from a study published in March 2013 in the Wildlife Society Bulletin. In 2012, according to the study, 888,000 bats were killed by wind turbines, as were 573,000 birds, including 83,000 raptors such as eagles. Moreover, the National Review said, the Fish and Wildlife Service itself has found that the number of eagles killed by wind turbines rose from two in 2007 to 24 in 2011, with a total of 85 since 1997. This conservative estimate included six bald eagles, study lead author Joel Pagel told the National Review.

The Bird Conservancy expressed its support of green energy, but not at the expense of these numbers.

“ABC strongly supports wind power and other renewable energy projects when those projects are located in an appropriate, wildlife-friendly manner and when the impacts on birds and other wildlife have been conscientiously considered and addressed before irreversible actions are undertaken,” the conservancy said in its notice. “On the other hand, when decisions regarding such projects are made precipitously and without compliance with elementary legal safeguards designed to ensure that our nation’s invaluable trust resources are not placed at risk, ABC will take appropriate action to protect eagles and other migratory birds.”

Read Gambling with Eagles in the National Review.