Obama administration finally holds a wind company accountable for eagle deaths

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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