Trying to figure out whether renewable energy is a good thing for the environment? Don’t ask a bald eagle. That’s because the wind industry is trying to obtain permits to legally kill the symbol of American freedom for the next thirty years.
According to a recent report from the Wall Street Journal, a federal judge has shot down a rule that would have allowed the wind industry to legally kill eagles for up to thirty years. Shockingly, federal permits already give the wind industry a “license to kill” for up to five years. The Journal reports that the Obama-appointed head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) fought for the rule even after being warned by his staff that “real, significant, and cumulative biological impacts will result” if eagle-kill permits were extended. For those counting, wind turbines already currently kill 573,000 birds and 880,000 bats each year.
Those kill numbers could get worse if federal officials get their way. The EPA’s carbon dioxide mandate, dubbed the Clean Power Plan, relies heavily on wind power for compliance. In fact, wind power capacity is projected to surge from 66 gigawatts in 2014 to some 200 gigawatts in 2030. That equals about 54,000 square miles of land covered in wind turbines that spell doom for things that fly, including eagles. As of today, the federal government has no clear policy about how to deal with the mass slaughter of birds and bats by wind turbines.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that eagles have been threatened by the wind industry. In 2013, PACE reported that Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy had plans to build a wind farm on the eastern shore of Maryland which, according to the FWS, would have made it the biggest death trap for eagles nationwide. Plans were later scrapped amid outrage from the local community. Now, apparently under pressure to contribute to the climate change effort, the FWS is pushing for eagle-kill permits for the wind industry.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that the U.S. should abandon support for wind energy; in fact, wind power has inherent advantages compared to other renewable power sources. It does mean, though, that all forms of energy have consequences, just as all provide value as part of a broad portfolio. It means, too, that the media binary of “clean” and “dirty” energy isn’t a very useful way to think about energy sources. Can an energy source that kills eagles really be described as clean?
Let’s all remember that eagles only found themselves off the list of Endangered Species in 2007. They are still heavily protected by federal law and it is illegal to even own an eagle feather. Now, eight years later, the wind industry, with the help of federal officials, is trying to convince us that widespread killing of eagles is an acceptable bargain. That is a disturbing wrinkle in federal policy that should shock all Americans. Today, some are willing to sacrifice the symbol of American freedom to achieve their energy vision. Tomorrow, it could be our actual freedom on the chopping block.