The Obama administration announced that it will allow wind turbines to kill or injure two American icons, the endangered bald and golden eagles. This can now be done without the fear of prosecution for up to 30 years. Not only are wind farms as ugly as industrial smoke stacks; it appears that green and clean wind power is proving to be neither. With this recent announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) appears to arbitrarily enforce its rules protecting our natural resources.
In April of 1970, there appeared the first Earth Day and in December of the same year, the EPA was created. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, the Clean Water Act followed in 1972 and then the Endangered Species Act in 1973. There is no doubt that the Industrial Revolution has spoiled our natural resources to some extent, and the initial reaction to it contained no small amount of sincere well-intentioned effort to clean up our act. However, the EPA is certainly a David gone Goliath.
In hindsight, it is easy to see that the snail darter was a harbinger of things to come. The Tennessee Valley Authority had envisioned building the Tellico dam in the 1930s and the project was halted because of World War II. After the war, plans to resume construction began in 1966 and soon after the project became hotly contested.
A major blow came to developers when a professor of biology from the University of Tennessee, David Etnier, predicted there could be as many as 10 threatened species in the river and that the project should be halted. Initially, Etnier had no knowledge if the snail darter even existed. However after it was found, he used it as a pretext for saving the environment even though he opposed the project primarily on other points.
The result: the Tellico dam was stalled for many years, trial attorneys made huge profits, and the sail darter, which now lives happily in many other rivers, became a virtual icon of the EPA. The dam was eventually built, but not without an unnecessary fight at astronomical costs over a three-inch bottom feeder in an attempt to “save the environment.”
In 2009, Exxon Mobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had encountered crude oil or other pollutants on its properties. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act from 1918 protects these birds, and they were fined $600,000. In the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of other cases against additional energy companies. An Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles during a two year period in Wyoming because the birds had been electrocuted by poorly designed power lines.
Currently, there is one energy-producing industry that is immune to these types of penalties—wind-generating companies. As yet, no action has been taken in spite of a 2008 study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency demonstrating that the wind farm in Altamont Pass, California was killing an average of 80 golden eagles per year. This represents only a fraction of the estimated 10,000 migratory birds killed annually at the same facility, most of which are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. All the while wind farms continue to operate with impunity.
Michael Fry from the American Bird Conservancy estimates that American wind turbines kill as many as 275,000 birds per year.1 Yet the EPA is still not bringing cases against wind turbine companies.
The U.S. Fish and WildlifeService enforces the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. 668-668c, which was enacted in 1940. It carries a fine of $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for organizations and imprisonment of one year or both for the first offense. Penalties increase substantially for additional offenses and a second violation is considered a felony. So it appears that the wind turbine industry is running afoul of government mandates while the EPA selectively enforces rules of its own choosing.