The Interior Department appears close to finalizing a controversial permitting rule that authorizes wind farms to kill eagles for decades.
The White House Office of Management and Budget signed off Wednesday on the heavily lobbied rule, which would boost the available permit period from five to 30 years, records show.
The rule, which has faced opposition from environmental groups, authorizes the non-intentional deaths of eagles but also contains conservation provisions, according to a summary of the plan on OMB's website.
The summary touts provisions designed to "ensure the preservation of eagles."
The wind industry has pushed for the change, arguing that it would provide regulatory certainty for developers, and notes that the eagle "take" permits include conservation and monitoring measures.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, eagle collisions with turbines at "modern" wind farms account for less than 2 percent of all reported human-caused Golden Eagle deaths, and "only a handful of Bald Eagle fatalities ever."
The group acknowledges that some wind farms developed in the 1980s were more problematic but argues that eagle deaths will fall sharply as older wind farms replace their shorter, faster turbines with the taller, less numerous, and slower-rotating models.
The Associated Press reported in September on a study by government biologists that found wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997 and that the actual figure was likely much higher. Most of the deaths occurred between 2008 and 2012, when the industry was growing fast, according to AP.
Seventy-nine of the fatalities were Golden Eagles, according to AP's story on the research.
Conservation groups have criticized the proposed 30-year permits, although advocates with some groups contacted Thursday morning did not comment as they awaited more information on the final rule.
The National Audubon Society, in remarks on its website posted earlier in the rulemaking process, said 30 years is "inconsistent with the protection of eagles."
"There is simply too much uncertainty over the status of eagle populations to commit to such long time frames, and the proposal may constrain future adaptive management action," the group states.
The Interior Department on Thursday confirmed that its final rule maintains the proposed 30-year permitting.
An Interior official said the agency's Fish and Wildlife Service has been conducting "extensive" outreach on the measure, which was first proposed in 2012.
The official said the department is also looking at eagle protection more broadly.
"The service is also working on a comprehensive review of all eagle-permitting regulations to determine if other modifications are necessary to increase their efficiency and effectiveness," the official said.
"In April 2012, the service issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public input on the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act Permit Program along with the Duration Rule. A National Environmental Policy Act document will be prepared for this rulemaking and tribes will be consulted on this action," the official said.
The Obama administration also agrees with the wind industry's argument about providing certainty to developers.
"This change will facilitate the development of renewable energy and other projects that are designed to be in operation for many decades. These regulations will provide a measure of certainty to project proponents and their funders, while continuing to protect eagles consistent with statutory mandates," the rule summary on OMB's website states.
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