Obama administration finally holds a wind company accountable for eagle deaths

posted at 6:01 pm on December 2, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

Throughout its tenure, the Obama administration has demonstrated a particular penchant for employing their “prosecutorial discretion” to aggressively prosecute oil-and-gas companies for infractions against any and all wildlife-related federal laws while simultaneously leaving their politically preferred wind companies completely unscathed by the very same. The wind industry, however, kills more than its fair share of protected birds, and after many months of complaints from both Republicans and environmentalist groups alike, the Department of Justice has actually, finally made at least a small move toward the equal application of the law:

Duke Energy Renewables Inc., a subsidiary of Duke Energy Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Wyoming today to violating the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) in connection with the deaths of protected birds, including golden eagles, at two of the company’s wind projects in Wyoming. This case represents the first ever criminal enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unpermitted avian takings at wind projects.

Under a plea agreement with the government, the company was sentenced to pay fines, restitution and community service totaling $1 million and was placed on probation for five years, during which it must implement an environmental compliance plan aimed at preventing bird deaths at the company’s four commercial wind projects in the state. The company is also required to apply for an Eagle Take Permit which, if granted, will provide a framework for minimizing and mitigating the deaths of golden eagles at the wind projects.

The charges stem from the discovery of 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, including hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens and sparrows by the company at its “Campbell Hill” and “Top of the World” wind projects in Converse County between 2009 and 2013. The two wind projects are comprised of 176 large wind turbines sited on private agricultural land.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that this isn’t merely a singularly showy move to quiet the administration’s many and various critics, via The Hill:

The Obama administration is playing favorites when it comes to charging energy companies for illegally killing protected birds, according to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

Vitter said that the Justice Department’s (DOJ) $1 million settlement with Duke Energy, the first of its kind against a wind energy firm, is just a token measure meant to distract from its pattern of penalizing fossil fuel companies for the same charges.

“It looks like DOJ is making an example out of this particular case to shift the focus away from the Administration’s bias of using the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to go after oil, gas and other businesses,” he said in a statement on Monday.

“The instances of wind energy’s favoritism have been so egregious under this Administration, and DOJ’s settlement and response still don’t explain the Administration’s obvious bias.”

The problem here for me isn’t so much that wind energy results in bird deaths (regrettable, but there are plenty of other technological aspects of modern life that do that same), but rather the Obama administration’s readily apparent double standard at work. If wind really were an independently viable, competitive, and practical form of energy, then protected birds deaths could be a tradeoff with which we might all be willing to live. The real problem, however, is that wind isn’t an independently viable, competitive, practical form of energy, as evidenced by the decades of special federal treatment and subsidies the wind industry has received and is still relentlessly seeking like their economic lives depend on it (mainly because, they do). All forms of energy technology carry risks, but the Obama administration has put so much taxpayer money as well as political capital into wind energy, they’ve obviously been giving the technology a free pass — and it needs to stop.


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Apparently, the CEO of Duke Energy (a HUGE Obama supporter/donor) didn’t kick quit enough into the Obama Campaign/OFA coffers last time. He’s been made an example of….of course, he’s shady as hell too.

AUINSC on December 2, 2013 at 6:07 PM

1 mullion? Vitter is correct. For show.

wolly4321 on December 2, 2013 at 6:08 PM

Rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies.

Grunt on December 2, 2013 at 6:08 PM

If the law was being applied in an even-handed method, the wind companies would all be shutting down the protected bird death mills.

Deano1952 on December 2, 2013 at 6:08 PM

Duke has too much of the dirty energy stuff to be considered a real “green energy” firm. They were a target that would serve as a token bit of enforcement without aggravating the Green core constituency. I would bet that Duke did not contribute to Obama’s campaign fund.

bartbeast on December 2, 2013 at 6:13 PM

I’m just very disappointed that Barky and his idiot junta can’t fly. I wouldn’t prosecute those “takings” either – more like an order of merit …

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on December 2, 2013 at 6:13 PM

Seems odd that they would even be able to build in an area where endangered birds migrate or live. I mean, it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s a whole lot more miles of pipeline and impervious roadways that would otherwise be needed if they didn’t have to traverse the preferred living areas of some ugly-assed frog, or one-eyed fishsnail.

Maybe they could shroud the turbines like your average desk fan.

Or better yet, take down these uneconomical behemoths that have so far proven to be less reliable for creating energy than your average stick and stone.

BKeyser on December 2, 2013 at 6:14 PM

Show trial to make Obama look tough.

astonerii on December 2, 2013 at 6:16 PM

How much sense does it make to levy “fines” (I guess Benedict Roberts would just call them “taxes”) against wind projects that live off of government handouts and tax credits, to begin with? What a friggin joke … as usual for the Indonesian and his band of America-hating morons.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on December 2, 2013 at 6:18 PM

Window dressing.

How much of an increase in subsidies will Duke get to offset this pinprick?

iurockhead on December 2, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Wind farms should be forced to buy eagle-murder offsets from coal plants.

Fabozz on December 2, 2013 at 6:23 PM

In sum, coal (greenhouse gases) versus wind (butt ugly, kills birds, and is way too wimpy to generate a decent amount of power) is the clear winner. And yet the Left loves wind, hates coal. Obama wants to bankrupt the coal industry.

/jerk

Paul-Cincy on December 2, 2013 at 6:30 PM

Wind farms should be forced to buy eagle-murder offsets from coal plants.

Fabozz on December 2, 2013 at 6:23 PM

+eleventy!1!11!

Paul-Cincy on December 2, 2013 at 6:31 PM

And duke had a radical leftist as a CEO up until the last year or so.

Murphy9 on December 2, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Oil companies have to walk on water so try and keep so much as a fly from being hurt by their rigs, why not force wind power companies to install giant grates and guarding around the props.

Sure it’s stupid, did that ever stop government?

Bishop on December 2, 2013 at 6:34 PM

Bishop on December 2, 2013 at 6:34 PM

As soon as some connected leftists buy grate companies the feral government will demand their installation – all paid for by new feral government subsidies and grants, of course … at only 10 times the cost of production. Obviously, the grates won’t work and will have to be dismantled and reinstalled after 5 months, at 30 times production cost …

Sometime while all this is happening the feral government will decide that all fans larger than 6″ require the new feral government certified grating from the chosen companies (lest you start killing bald eagles with your living room fan), otherwise a fine penalty tax will be assessed for those violating the “grate mandate”.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on December 2, 2013 at 6:40 PM

Apparently, the CEO of Duke Energy (a HUGE Obama supporter/donor) didn’t kick quit enough into the Obama Campaign/OFA coffers last time. He’s been made an example of….of course, he’s shady as hell too.

AUINSC on December 2, 2013 at 6:07 PM

And duke had a radical leftist as a CEO up until the last year or so.

Murphy9 on December 2, 2013 at 6:32 PM

How convenient that the new CEO as of June 2013, Lynn Good, donated to McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012.

Steve Eggleston on December 2, 2013 at 7:03 PM

Seems odd that they would even be able to build in an area where endangered birds migrate or live.

BKeyser on December 2, 2013 at 6:14 PM

Got odd?

Here in central New Hampshire, the Groton Wind Farm (24 300+ foot tall towers) went online in January of this year. It was fast-tracked thru all stages of the permitting process, including the final decision by the Activist Democrat Justices on the NH Supreme Court to not even allow those opposed to express their opinions or concerns.

As the endangered bird flies, the towers are less than 2 miles across the Baker River Valley from Rattlesnake Mountain, in the town of Rumney just to the south. Rattlesnake Mountain is one of the only Peregrine Falcon nesting sites in the entire state.

One of the reasons the (foreign) developers of this boondoggle were able to get fast-tracked is because they built the project just over the town line, in Groton (hence the name).

Rumney has zoning ordinances. Groton does not. ‘Nuff said.

Del Dolemonte on December 2, 2013 at 7:16 PM

Be interesting to see how the greenies will protect the birds from those big fans.

GarandFan on December 2, 2013 at 7:34 PM

Be interesting to see how the greenies will protect the birds from those big fans.

GarandFan on December 2, 2013 at 7:34 PM

For the favored prog faithful, I’m sure they will be able to invent some kind of penance-like scheme, like ‘Bird Credits’. Kill a bird, build a birdhouse, some kind of crap like that.

slickwillie2001 on December 2, 2013 at 7:45 PM

These greenie wind freaks need to be forced to live within the footprints of these windmills. Never happen but it would be the fastest way to put a halt to these money drains.

Save the birds. Kill the greens!

D-fusit on December 2, 2013 at 8:08 PM

Wind turbines kill a disproportionate amount of predatory birds because the generator boxes, usually located between the center of the turbine and the top of the support pylon, are attractive nesting sites for them, offering them a bird’s eye view of prey and an elevated site for raising their young in otherwise flat areas without natural cliffs or tall trees.

Wind turbines usually have vanes to keep the axis of rotation pointed into the wind (which maximizes their efficiency), meaning that the wind turbine is usually upwind of the generator box. Predatory birds (like airplanes) tend to take off upwind in order to maximize lift under their wings, which forces them through the plane of the spinning blades. In high winds, they may only have a fraction of a second to take off between the blades, and one ill-timed jump can kill a predatory bird.

Regardless of the other advantages and drawbacks of wind turbines, power companies that build them could reduce bird deaths by making turbines unattractive to nesting birds, such as putting cone- or pyramid-shaped lids over the generator boxes to prevent nesting, or perhaps using ultrasound emitters which would repel birds.

Since the entire fossil fuel industry is already strictly regulated, why not impose reasonable regulations on wind-turbine builders which would reduce bird kills?

Steve Z on December 2, 2013 at 8:41 PM

Subsidize and push green energy and then fine them. Great incentive. This admin doesn’t want anyone to have affordable power, unless it’s them of course. Wonder if WY being a Rep state had anything to do with it.

MH53J on December 2, 2013 at 8:54 PM

Remember when Duke “loaned” $10M to the Dems for their convention in Charlotte

tmitsss on December 2, 2013 at 9:17 PM

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Duke is also a large producer of natural gas. He can kill two birds with one stone, pun intended, pacify the critics while still penalizing an evil gas company.

Speechlesstx on December 3, 2013 at 9:32 AM