Tuesday December 1st, 2015 8:37PM

For wind power, US extends permit for eagle deaths

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration said Friday it will allow some companies to kill or injure bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years without penalty, an effort to spur development and investment in green energy while balancing its environmental consequences.

The change, requested by the wind energy industry, will provide legal protection for the lifespan of wind farms and other projects for which companies obtain a permit and make efforts to avoid killing the birds.

An investigation by The Associated Press earlier this year documented the illegal killing of eagles around wind farms, the Obama administration's reluctance to prosecute such cases and its willingness to help keep the scope of the eagle deaths secret. The White House has championed wind power, a pollution-free energy intended to ease global warming, as a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's energy plan.

In other areas, too, such as the government's support for corn-based ethanol to reduce U.S. dependence on gasoline, the White House has allowed the green industry to do not-so-green things. Another AP investigation recently showed that ethanol has proven far more damaging to the environment than politicians promised and much worse than the government admits today.

Under the change announced Friday, companies would have to commit to take additional measures if they kill or injure more eagles than they have estimated they would, or if new information suggests that eagle populations are being affected. The permits would be reviewed every five years, and companies would have to submit reports of how many eagles they kill. Now such reporting is voluntarily, and the Interior Department refuses to release the information.

"This is not a program to kill eagles," said John Anderson, the director of siting policy at the American Wind Energy Association. "This permit program is about conservation."

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet's wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds of up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

Flying eagles behave like drivers texting on their cellphones; they don't look up. As they scan below for food, they don't notice the industrial turbine blades until it is too late.

No wind energy company has obtained permission authorizing the killing, injuring or harassment of eagles, although five-year permits have been available since 2009. That puts the companies at legal risk and discourages private investment in renewable energy.

It also doesn't necessarily help eagles, since without a permit, companies are not required to take steps to reduce their impact on the birds or report when they kill them.

The new rule makes clear that revoking a permit - which could undermine investments and interest in wind power - is a last resort under the administration's energy policy.

"We anticipate that implementing additional mitigation measures ... will reduce the likelihood of amendments to, or revocation of, the permit," the rule said.

Conservation groups, which have been aligned with the wind industry on other issues, said the decision by the Interior Department sanctioned the killing of an American icon.

"Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check," said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold in a statement. The group said it will challenge the decision.

The wind energy industry has said the change mirrors permits already in place for endangered species, which are more at risk than bald and golden eagles. Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007 but are still protected under two federal laws.

The regulation published Friday was not subjected to a full environmental review because the administration classified it as an administrative change.

"The federal government didn't study the impacts of this rule change even though the (law) requires it," said Kelly Fuller, who formerly headed up the wind campaign at the American Bird Conservancy. "Instead, the feds have decided to break the law and use eagles as lab rats."

The Fish and Wildlife Service said the new rule enables it to better monitor the long-term environmental effects of renewable energy projects.

"Our goal is to ensure that the wind industry sites and operates projects in ways that best minimize and avoid impacts to eagles and other wildlife," the agency said in a statement.

Last month, Duke Energy Corp. pleaded guilty to killing eagles and other birds at two wind farms in Wyoming, the first time a wind energy company has been prosecuted under a law protecting migratory birds.

A study by federal biologists in September found that wind farms since 2008 had killed at least 67 bald and golden eagles, a number that the researchers said was likely underestimated.

It's unclear what toll, if any, wind energy companies are having on eagle populations locally or regionally. Gunshots, electrocutions and poisonings almost certainly kill more bald and golden eagles than wind farms. But with the industry still growing, the toll could grow, too.

A recent assessment of status of the golden eagle in the western U.S. showed that populations have been decreasing in some areas and rising in others.
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 1 year ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 1 year ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 1 year ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 1 year ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 1 year ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 1 year ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 1 year ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 1 year ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 1 year ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 1 year ago )
White House offers governors info on refugees in their states after Syrian migrants uproar
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is proposing to offer governors individualized reports about refugees in their states.White House chief of staff Denis McDonough says in letters to all 50 governors t...
9:08PM ( 23 hours ago )
Standoff at Planned Parenthood ends with suspect's arrest; 3 killed, 9 wounded
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A gunman who opened fire inside a Planned Parenthood clinic was arrested Friday after engaging in gun battles with authorities during an hourslong standoff that killed t...
1:13AM ( 3 days ago )
White House undergoes Thanksgiving Day lockdown after man draped in American flag jumps fence
WASHINGTON (AP) — A man draped in an American flag climbed over the fence at the White House on Thursday, prompting a lockdown as the first family celebrated Thanksgiving.The man was immediately appre...
10:11PM ( 4 days ago )
Obama grants reprieve to turkeys 'Honest' and 'Abe' during White House ceremony
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama spared two turkeys named for one of the nation's most admired presidents, continuing a White House tradition that provides a refreshing sense of amusement and...
9:18PM ( 5 days ago )
The Latest: UN Security Council strongly condemns 'horrifying' attack in Mali, urges probe
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The latest on the attack on a hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako. (All times local):___4:55 a.m.The U.N. Security Council is condemning "the horrifying terrorist attack" at the...
10:58PM ( 1 week ago )