Extensions Would Allow More Killing of Our National Bird

The Interior Department is on the cusp of finalizing a rule that would give wind farms 30-year permits that authorize killing eagles.

Challenger, a Bald Eagle, is displayed during a wildlife event 28 February, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Dec. 5, 2013, 7:41 a.m.

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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