A US District Court in California has invalidated the "eagle taking" rule, which protects wind farm developers from conviction if endangered raptors are accidentally killed by contact with turbines.
In 2009, the Department of Interior (DOI) adopted the rule, allowing developers to apply for a 5-year "takings" permit. In 2013, they extended the time to 30 years without any environmental assessment or public input on potential impacts.
This violates federal law, writes the court. "... substantial questions are raised as to whether the Final 30-Year Rule may have a significant adverse effect on bald and golden eagle populations."
" ... While promoting renewable energy projects may well be a worthy goal, it is no substitute for the [agency's] obligations to comply with NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] and to conduct a studied review and response to concerns about the environmental implications of major agency action. ...
"We're ready to work with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct the required NEPA analysis and formulate a better system to protect eagles from poorly-sited wind energy projects. We must come up with a better system to assess potential risks to birds and bats prior to a project's siting and construction and to track and mitigate project impacts post-construction," says Dr. Michael Hutchins, Director of American Bird Conservancy's (ABC) Bird Smart Wind Energy Program, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Proper siting of wind farms is possible without threatening wildlife, says ABC, but more than 30,000 wind turbines are in areas that are critical to the survival of endangered birds - and there are plans for 50,000 more.
In 2013, Duke Energy was the first company convicted for killing birds at wind farms in Wyoming. After setting for a $1 million fine and agreeing to modifications to prevent further deaths, the company lobbied legislators to dilute or repeal the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. That effort was dropped earlier this year.
In 2012, the Fish & Wildlife Service published voluntary operating and siting guidelines for the wind industry, and this year, they released Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance. ABC believes these guidelines would be much more effective at preventing bird deaths if they were mandatory, with project permits used to cover costs.