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Biden administration proposes new permitting program for wind-power companies killing eagles

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Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

On September 29, the Biden administration proposed a new permitting program for the "taking of eagles for various purposes." The "taking of eagles" is a euphemism for the "incidental, or unintentional" slaughter of such birds of national significance. Energy companies whose wind turbines are slaughtering eagles by the hundreds or thousands will, if so permitted, be authorized to continue doing so whilst both executing President Joe Biden's climate agenda and continuing to "expand in the United States."

Promoting cooperation

Amidst a massive national expansion of wind power projects and with some wind energy companies pleading guilty to shredding eagles, the Biden administration wants to "encourage more project proponents that may have an impact on eagles to obtain a permit and implement mitigation measures."

In its Thursday announcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggested that it is committed to "maintaining stable or increasing eagle populations." There are an estimated 350,000 American bald eagles and presently only 40,000 golden eagles.

By amending the permit process for "wind-energy generation projects, power line infrastructure, disturbance of breeding bald eagles, and bald eagle nest take," the FWS believes more projects will be incentivized to be in compliance with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act) and implement mitigation measures.

Under the Eagle Act, wind energy companies seeking a permit have to show that the: "taking is necessary to protect an interest in a particular locality"; "taking is associated with, but not the purpose of, the activity"; and the "applicant has applied all appropriate and practicable avoidance and minimization measures to reduce impacts to eagles."

While the Eagle Act will be preserved, FWS Director Martha Williams indicated the new program would provide "multiple pathways to obtain a permit."

Wind power companies, for instance, could obtain a general permit by registering with the FWS and, "without review by the Service," certify compliance with permit conditions. For every eagle a permittee kills, they must work to ensure another eagle death is avoided elsewhere.

The permitting scheme's added clarity and pathways may have benefited the NextEra Energy subsidiary ESI Energy, which was sentenced in the spring to five years probation and ordered to pay over $8 million in fines and restitution after it had killed at least 150 eagles.

NBC News reported in April that the company acknowledged the deaths of golden and bald eagles at 50 affiliate wind farms since 2012. Most eagles were "taken" by ESI Energy's wind turbines. While the estimated number of eagles killed by the company was 150, the number might in fact be much higher, granted the carcasses of the national bird were not always found.

The company had not sought permits because, according to spokesman Steven Stengel, it didn't reckon the law required them for unintentional bird deaths.

ESI Energy was not the first wind power company prosecuted for a death of an eagle or another protected bird. That was Duke Energy Renewables, which pled guilty to killing 14 eagles and a myriad of other birds at two Wyoming wind farms in 2013.

At the time, no wind energy company had obtained a federal permit to "take" an eagle.

On December 14, 2016, the Obama administration finalized a rule enabling permitted high-speed turbines to kill or injure up to 4,200 bald eagles, four times the previous limit. The 30-year permits issued by the FWS each cost $36,000.

Permittees were required to "implement all practicable best management practices and other measures that are reasonably likely to reduce eagle take" to less than 5% of the local area population for a project in operation.

Unlike his predecessor and successor, former President Donald Trump stated shortly after the Obama administration permitted the taking of more birds that: "If you shoot an eagle, or kill an eagle, they want to put you in jail for five years ... And yet the windmills are killing hundreds and hundreds of eagles. One of the most beautiful, one of the most treasured birds, and they're killing them by the hundreds, and nothing happens."

The Associated Press reported that 34 permits were in place last year, which enabled authorized companies to kill 170 golden eagles. Over 200 additional permits were in place, which authorized the killing of 420 bald eagles.

The federal government has refused to indicate how many eagles have been killed by wind farms, claiming the number constitutes sensitive law enforcement information.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey database, there are over 72,800 wind turbines nationwide in approximately 1,500 wind power projects spanning at least 44 states. That number may soon see a significant rise.

The Biden administration announced on September 15 that it intends to develop new floating offshore wind platforms near the Gulf of Maine and along the west coast. This resulting investment will allegedly be able to power 10 million homes by 2030.

Beyond the financial and avian dimensions, the plan will have its costs.

Extra to killing eagles, Forbes reported that the construction, operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms generates a lot of pollution. For each 500 megawatt installation, between 12,571 and 18,857 barrels of marine fuel are consumed. That amounts to 1.2% the amount of fuel consumed yearly by Amtrak.

With a 20-year lifespan, these installations also require maintenance, which will similarly exhaust a great deal of fossil fuels.

As the mills are retired over the next 20 years, the U.S. will be left with an estimated 720,000 tons of unrecyclable blade material to dispose of.

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