Group sues US over eagle kill rule

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has sued the US Interior Department over a new federal rule that allows wind farm operators and owners to kill or injure eagles for 30 years without fear of prosecution.

Until last December, the industry was allowed a maximum five-year permit.

The conservation group contends that the rule is illegal as it violates several federal laws and other statutes that protect the birds. It also argues that DOI’s US Fish and Wildlife Service did not adequately consider how the new measure might impact Bald and Golden Eagle populations.

The Bald Eagle is both the US national bird and national animal. It was on the brink of extinction within the continental US in the 1970s and 1980s before recovering. It was removed from the federal government’s list of endangered and threatened species in 1995 and 2007, respectively.

“Eagles are among our nation’s most iconic and cherished birds. They do not have to be sacrificed for the next 30 years for the sake of unconstrained wind energy,” says Michael Hutchins, national coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Program.

ABC says it believes wind and other renewable energy can be encouraged without putting eagles at risk.  

“In the government’s rush to expand wind energy, shortcuts were taken in implementing this rule that should not have been allowed,” Hutchins alleges.

The Associated Press reports that President Barack Obama’s administration classified the rule as an administrative change, so it would not be subject to a full environmental review.

“Giving wind companies a 30-year pass to kill Bald and Golden Eagles without knowing how it might affect their populations is a reckless and irresponsible gamble that millions of Americans are unwilling to take,” Hutchins adds.

Since taking office in January 2009, Obama has heavily promoted wind as a carbon-free energy source.  Over that period, installed US wind generation capacity has more than doubled from 25.1GW to 61.1GW at the end of 2013.

Conservationists note that his administration has been slow to prosecute the industry for killing eagles at wind farms.

One company, Duke Energy, the nation’s eighth largest wind generator, pleaded guilty last year to killing eagles and other birds at two Wyoming wind farms. It agreed to pay $1m in fines and restitution in a settlement agreement with the Us Justice Department.

The industry had lobbied for the change to reduce its potential liability and also to provide financial certainty, which is important to the viability of its business.

John Anderson, director of siting policy at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), last year noted that the wind industry does more to address its impacts on eagles than any of the other, far greater sources of eagle fatalities known to wildlife experts.  

AWEA says that fatalities of golden eagles at modern wind facilities represent less than 2% of all documented sources of human-caused eagle fatalities.

The birds are also killed by electrocutions, poisonings, gunshots and collisions with airborne objects.