2013-05-14. Wind farms get pass on eagle deaths.

posted May 24, 2013, 1:08 PM by Alan Gould
For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 6. Excerpt: CONVERSE COUNTY, Wyo. (AP) - It happens about once a month here, on the barren foothills of one of America's green-energy boomtowns: A soaring golden eagle slams into a wind farm's spinning turbine and falls, mangled and lifeless, to the ground. Killing these iconic birds is not just an irreplaceable loss for a vulnerable species. It's also a federal crime, a charge that the Obama administration has used to prosecute oil companies when birds drown in their waste pits, and power companies when birds are electrocuted by their power lines. But the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind-energy company, even those that flout the law repeatedly. Instead, the government is shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the deaths secret. ...More than 573,000 birds are killed by the country's wind farms each year, including 83,000 hunting birds such as hawks, falcons and eagles, according to an estimate published in March in the peer-reviewed Wildlife Society Bulletin. ...Nearly all the birds being killed are protected under federal environmental laws, which prosecutors have used to generate tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements from businesses, including oil and gas companies, over the past five years. ...By not enforcing the law [for windfarms], the administration provides little incentive for companies to build wind farms where there are fewer birds. And while companies already operating turbines are supposed to avoid killing birds, in reality there's little they can do once the windmills are spinning. ...Flying eagles behave like drivers texting on their cellphones; they don't look up. As they scan for food, they don't notice the industrial turbine blades until it's too late. ...The golden eagle population in the West, prior to the wind energy boom, was declining so much that the government's conservation goal in 2009 was not to allow the eagle population to decrease by a single bird. ...In its defense, the wind-energy industry points out that more eagles are killed each year by cars, electrocutions and poisoning than by turbines. ...The Interior Department recently approved construction of the nation's largest wind farm in Wyoming, with what would be 1,000 turbines. The federal government predicts that project, which was analyzed because it was on federal land, would kill 46 to 64 eagles each year. At a different facility, Duke Energy's Top of the World wind farm, a 17,000-acre site with 110 turbines located about 35 miles east of Casper, 10 eagles have been killed in the first two years of operation. It is the deadliest of Duke's 15 wind power plants for eagles.... http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_289563/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=WhxcFpkn. Dina Cappiello, AP.