For just the second time in nearly six years, the Obama administration has prosecuted a power company for the deaths of federally protected birds from wind turbines, which kill hundreds of thousands of birds every year.
PacifiCorp Energy plead guilty on Friday to the deaths of 336 birds, including 28 golden eagles, at two wind turbine farms in Wyoming since 2009. The energy company agreed to pay $2.5 million in fines, including $1.9 million dollars to go towards eagle conservation and wind farm mitigation efforts.
This is the second company to be prosecuted for killing birds while generating wind power. In November 2013, Duke Energy agreed to pay $1 million in fines for the deaths of 160 birds — 14 golden eagles — at two wind farms in Wyoming.
Prior to Duke, the Obama administration had never charged wind power producers with killing birds. Until 2013, only fossil fuel companies and utilities had been charged with killing birds.
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“PacifiCorp Energy built two of its Wyoming wind projects in a manner it knew would likely result in the deaths of eagles and other protected birds,” said Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney at the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“PacifiCorp has taken steps to minimize the hazard, and with this plea agreement has committed to a comprehensive plan to continue such efforts in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to seek eagle take permits for each project, and to work to prevent future eagle deaths,” Hirsch said.
Experts say wind turbines can kill up to 557,000 birds per year and 888,000 bats. From 2009 to April 2013, the Obama administration handled 200 cases involving federally protected bird deaths, but none of them involved wind farms.
Environmentalists and conservatives have been critical of the Obama administration’s failure to prosecute bird deaths. Some argued the inaction against wind turbine operators for hundreds of thousands of bird deaths every year was an implicit subsidy to the wind industry.
The Obama administration, however, has tried making it easier for wind turbines to operate, offering 30-year permits for wind farms to kill migratory birds and eagle. This move angered environmentalists.
“Eagles symbolize America’s national heritage and deserve more protection, not less. This rule change will make it harder to protect the remaining eagles that San Diegans love,” said Donna Tisdale, secretary of the environmental group Protect Our Communities Foundation.
The American Bird Conservancy sued the Obama administration in May because of the 30-year take permits.
“ABC has heard from thousands of citizens from across the country who are outraged that the [Interior Department] wants to let the wind industry legally kill our country’s iconic Bald and Golden eagles,” said Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign.
“The rule lacks a firm foundation in scientific justification and was generated without the benefit of a full assessment of its impacts on eagle populations,” Hutchins added.
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