(Washington, D.C) American Bird Conservancy (ABC)-the nation's leading bird conservation organization-today raised concerns about new draft Department of the Interior (DOI) guidelines for wind development that appear to have been overly influenced by energy industry lawyers and lobbyists. The new draft reverses agency protection recommendations for many bird species and adds unrealistic deadlines that would lead to "rubber-stamping" of wind projects. ABC expects millions of migratory birds to be harmed by poorly-planned wind energy as a result.
The draft guidelines were released ahead of a Wind Federal Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for today and tomorrow in Arlington, Virginia, where Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is expected to speak.
"What is particularly surprising is that even the original guidelines proposed by Interior weren't mandatory. Here, industry is asking for voluntary guidelines to be weakened. What they might succeed in getting, though, is a set of guidelines that lack clarity, plus greater likelihood of legal problems," said Mike Parr, Vice President of ABC.
"What we are talking about is thousands of unpermitted wind farms that break bird protection laws and open up legal liability for wind developers and risk for investors. Mandatory guidelines would give developers certainty that they would not face prosecution, and would generate a dialog between wind developers and the Fish and Wildlife Service to help minimize and mitigate bird impacts," he added.
"Given the Administration's commitment to scientific integrity, it's hard to understand why the peer-reviewed work of agency scientists was dismissed in favor of text written by an industry-dominated Federal Advisory Committee," said Kelly Fuller, Wind Campaign Coordinator at ABC. "ABC would like to see the next draft include more of what the agency scientists wrote."
Recommendations on wind energy were developed over a two-year period by an industry-dominated, 22-member Federal Advisory Committee and forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior in March 2010. Over the next year, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists made a series of changes to those recommendations to improve protection for birds. Those revised guidelines were then published for public comment in February 2011 (an overwhelming number of the comments called for the guidelines to be strengthened, not weakened). They also underwent scientific peer review. Last week, FWS re-issued a new draft of those guidelines, available at http://www.fws.gov/windenergy/docs/WEG_July_12_%202011.pdf that removed many of the key bird protection elements following pressure from industry.
"ABC supports bird-smart wind energy development in which birds can co-exist with wind energy. America must avoid repeating the mistakes we made with hydropower half a century ago, when we built dams without careful environmental review or consideration, necessitating spending millions of dollars today to remove them. We must likewise steer clear of the mistakes we are making today with coal, which result in costly impacts to public health and wildlife. These new guidelines are not bird-smart," she added.
Parr said "The new guidelines would harm birds by only giving U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologists responsibility to review wind projects within new, truncated deadlines, and without the funding to hire the requisite additional staff. The new draft guidelines would also protect fewer migratory birds than the earlier version and move away from DOI's legal responsibility to protect all migratory bird species, not just ‘species of concern'."
In addition, the new guidelines remove protections for both birds and people that FWS biologists had recommended in their peer-reviewed guidelines, including:
• Allowing greater latitude in installing overhead power lines between wind turbines, which increases the risk to larger birds such as eagles, hawks, and cranes, instead of burying the lines.
• Removing a recommendation that wind developers address wildfire risk and response planning, something that could be potentially very important, especially in Western communities or areas experiencing drought.
• Removing a recommendation that wind developers avoid discharging sediment from roads into streams and waters, a standard recommendation at construction sites that protects water quality.
• Removing a recommendation to avoid active wind turbine construction during key periods in the life histories of fish and wildlife, such as the nesting season for migratory birds.
The publication date for the final version of the guidelines has not yet been announced.
Concerned citizens have until August 4 to comment on the current guidelines. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org