A bald eagle
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“Whaaat?”

The Obama administration recently sent a big message to the wind energy industry, imposing a $1 million fine under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for a wind farm that killed birds in violation of wildlife rules.

On Friday, the administration sent a different message when it moved to make such rules more lenient.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would begin handing out permits that give wind companies permission to unintentionally kill protected bald and golden eagles for 30 years, provided they implement “advanced conservation practices” to keep the number of deaths low. Such permits had previously been capped at five years.

Some wildlife advocates were appalled by the move, which they had opposed. From The Hill:

In a statement sent to The Hill, the president of the National Audubon Society, David Yarnold, said that the administration “wrote the wind industry a blank check,” and indicated that a court challenge court be in the works.

“We have no choice but to challenge this decision, and all options are on the table,” he added.

The wind energy industry, meanwhile, tried to put the bird-killing habits of some of its operators in context, pointing out that similar “take” permits are available for dirty energy producers. From an American Wind Energy Association blog post by John Anderson, an expert on turbine siting, which, when done well, can be one of the best ways of avoiding bird deaths:

The wind industry does more to address its impacts on eagles than any of the other, far greater sources of eagle fatalities known to wildlife experts, and we are constantly striving to reduce these impacts even further. In fact, the wind industry has taken the most proactive and leading role of any utility-scale energy source to minimize wildlife impacts in general, and specifically on eagles, through constantly improving siting and monitoring techniques.

Remember, the federal government won’t be handing out permits allowing wind turbine owners to kill birds carte blanche. “The permits must incorporate conditions specifying additional measures that may be necessary to ensure the preservation of eagles, should monitoring data indicate the need for the measures,” the new regulation states.