Editorial: With massive bird deaths, what price wind power?
Wind power is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s energy policy. He has strongly supported a $1 billion-a-year tax break for the industry, which has helped double the amount of wind power in his first four years in office. The intent is an admirable one: Wind power is a pollution-free energy that helps ease global warming.
But according to a disturbing Associated Press investigation, the effort has come at a high cost amid questionable administration practices in seeking more renewable energy.
The “green” energy that is wind power comes with a significant “not-so-green” downside: Wind power’s massive turbines kill thousands of birds every year, including many federally protected species, such as eagles.
While an argument can be made that this is the price to be paid for clean energy, it seems to us the Obama administration has crossed an acceptable line involving federal law to achieve its goals.
According to the AP report:
∎ It’s a federal crime to kill these protected species and the administration comes down hard on the oil, gas and electric industries for killing these birds, but has never fined or prosecuted a wind-power company for the same offenses.
∎ The administration is shielding the industry from liability and helping keep the scope of the bird deaths secret.
∎ The administration is allowing the wind industry to kill protected species with impunity and conceal the environmental consequences of sprawling wind farms.
∎ The country’s wind farms kill more than 573,000 birds each year, including 83,000 hunting birds such as hawks, falcons and eagles. Yet wind power companies aren’t required to disclose how many birds they kill.
And when they do report such deaths, the administration often won’t make the information public.
∎ Nearly all the birds being killed are protected under federal environmental laws, which prosecutors have used to generate tens of millions of dollars in fines and settlements from other energy businesses, including oil and gas companies, over the past five years.
∎ The administration has even proposed a rule that would give wind-energy companies potentially decades of shelter from prosecution for killing eagles. The proposal, made at the urging of the wind-energy industry, would allow companies to apply for 30-year permits to kill a set number of bald or golden eagles. Previously, companies were only eligible for five-year permits.
The administration says this is to give financial security to the companies, claiming investors are not likely to finance an industry that’s violating the law.
The logic may be impeccable, but sometimes logic must be overruled by common sense.
It’s clear to us that the Obama administration is willing to make the trade-off in the name of cleaner energy. But we don’t believe energy policy should ignore environmental laws.
As the saying goes, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
There has to be a better approach than to chalk up the bird losses as inevitable. The administration could require companies to build more farms where there are fewer birds. Use tax incentives to accomplish this task. Enforce the federal species law.
The administration has to get companies to act before they build their 30-story-high turbines.
After the turbines are running, there is no turning back.