The Obama administration’s unwillingness to enforce laws on wind-energy companies in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds each year is rankling environmental activists who see a developing double standard.
On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind-energy company for the deaths of golden eagles on their farms, which occur quite frequently. That contrasts significantly with how the administration approaches birds’ deaths caused by oil, gas, and power companies.
According to estimates from the Wildlife Society Bulletin, wind farms kill 83,000 hunting birds — like hawks, falcons, and eagles — per year. Golden eagles are no longer on the endangered species list, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated in 2011 that only about 30,000 remained in the United States
Environmental activists said the Obama administration is treading a fine line between promoting wind energy and making sure other environmental issues aren’t affected by the emerging clean-tech industry.
“We need to make the transition to a clean energy future, but we also need to do it without killing large numbers of wildlife,” said Derek Goldman, a field representative at the Endangered Species Coalition.
“There are steps that can be taken to minimize bird mortality in these projects, but these measures won’t be studied and implemented if the White House is sweeping the problem under the rug.”
John Kostyack, the vice president of wildlife conservation at the National Wildlife Foundation, agreed with Goldman’s overall sentiment but rejected the notion that the Obama administration isn’t doing anything to solve the problem and said the focus should remain on oil and gas companies.
Kostyack also hailed the progress that wind companies have made in trying to facilitate responsible development of wind energy, pointing to a partnership called the American Wind Wildlife Institute.
Still, he thinks the Obama administration could probably go further in its enforcement and threaten prosecution under laws like the Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
“I think you have to have civil and criminal laws in place for every industry,” Kostyack told Business Insider.
“Responsible companies recognise that the way they avoid risk of prosecution and risk of liability is to come to the table, work with wildlife agencies, and design a solution. I think that should be the greater emphasis in this conversation.”
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