Eagle in front of American flag

In May the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), with approval from the Obama Administration, proposed changes to federal rules that allow wind-energy companies to continue killing one of the great American symbols – bald eagles.

Within this rule, wind farms would be granted permits to kill up to 4,200 bald eagles per year, which is nearly four times the current limit. The proposed changes would also extend the time period for such permits from 5 to 30 years, six times what the law currently allows for wind farms.

According to the FWS, there are about 143,000 bald eagles and 40,000 golden eagles in the U.S. Under the proposed changes, wind farms could be allowed to kill up to 126,000 bald eagles during the life of the permit. This would be on top of reports that show 573,000 birds (88,000 of which are “raptors” such as eagles) and 888,000 bats are being killed each year by wind turbines, more than 30 percent higher than federal government estimates. While the estimate could change, wind farms are known for catching birds in their rotors.

One of the more troubling aspects is estimated deaths are likely low given a lack of reporting data. “We don’t really know how many birds are being killed now by wind turbines because the wind industry doesn’t have to report the data,” says Michael Hutchins of the American Bird Conservancy. Currently such data is considered a “trade secret.” This is especially concerning given that wind capacity has increased 20 percent in recent years, and is projected to triple if Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CCP) moves forward.

According to the Golden Gate Audubon Society, one of the biggest offenders is the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) in California. At APWRA, an estimated 75 to 110 Golden Eagles are killed by the wind turbines each year. In total, the nearly 6,000 lethal turbines spread out across 50,000 acres in northeastern Alameda and southeastern Contra Costa counties kill 4,700 birds annually.

FWS Director Dan Ashe said the new proposal will “provide a path forward” for maintaining eagle populations while also spurring development of new energy sources, which is a huge part of Obama’s energy plan. Robert Bryce, Senior Fellow at The Manhattan Institute, noted that, “By exempting the wind industry from prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act or the Eagle Protection Act, the federal government is providing another indirect subsidy to the sector.” The wind industry already receives hefty handouts from the government in the form of investment tax credits. 

The great irony is Obama has made environmental protection an important issue during his presidency, however Obama advocates for new energy sources, including wind turbines, which in return kill thousands of birds annually, including eagles. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently released Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States. Details within this report note that 35 percent of energy will be powered wind energy by 2050.

The theme that emerges from Obama’s tenure is that he is always willing to subject the country to endless negative externalities, such as skyrocketing energy costs from his CPP, so long as his “green” legacy is preserved. The Administration is now going to consider public comments on the thirty-year permits for wind farms and issue a final ruling on the issue by the end of the year.


Photo Credit: Jordan Confino