American Elephants

Nevermind the Law. Just Go Ahead and Kill the Birds! by The Elephant's Child


The Justice Department announced a couple of weeks ago that “a subsidiary of Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1 million for killing golden eagles and other federally protected birds at two of the company’s wind projects in Wyoming. The guilty plea was long overdue victory for the rule of law and a sign that green energy might be going out of vogue.”

“As Justice noted in its news release, this is the first time a case has been brought against a wind company for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The 1918 law makes it a federal crime to kill any bird of more than 1,000 different species. Over the past few decades, federal authorities have brought hundreds of cases against oil and gas companies for killing birds, while the wind industry has enjoyed a de facto exemption. By bringing criminal charges against Duke for killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, Justice has ended the legal double standard on enforcement.”

Triumph of hope over Obama priorities. The Obama administration is about to approve a rule that will ensure the death of golden and bald eagles for the next 30 more years. Hundreds of thousands of birds die each year flying into the deadly turbine blades atop the towers of a wind farm. Many wind farms are built in mountain passes where wind is more likely, but that is the birds migrating course as well. The birds that are not chopped up by turbines are often fried by solar arrays.

It gets to be a real problem when you divide everything up into political interest groups, according to how much cash they donate. The Keystone XL Pipeline proved that Greens trump Unions. Unions trump Hispanics, and Hispanics trump Blacks. Where women fit into the priority line, I don’t know, or Gays. The good of the country, or the rule of law, are nowhere to be found. Politics trumps all.

The renewable energy business is also losing its lustre, as the public discovers how expensive “green jobs” are. In January Texas Comptroller Susan Combs reported that each wind related job in Texas, the top wind energy state in the union, cost taxpayers $1.75 million. People are also discovering that they don’t much like wind turbines that ruin scenic countryside, reduce property values and create excessive noise. Chris Clarke of KCET reported that the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a new solar-thermal project in the Mojave Desert killed 52 birds just in October, killed by the intense heat generated by the project’s mirrors.

The President does not change his mind. If he believed that Infrastructure was the key to economic growth in 2008, he still believes that today. Unfortunately, the world is changing its mind. Global warming is no longer a threat, the climate has been cooling for 17 years, and “alternative energy” is way too expensive, and in light of our new wealth in oil and gas from fracking and shale-oil projects on course to make us the Saudi Arabia of the world, maybe it’s not worth it to kill all those birds so carelessly.

And the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is just an old law. The President can just wave his hand and say that it doesn’t apply to his administration because he likes wind and solar energy better.

4 Comments so far
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Good news. However, your sentence “The birds that are not chopped up by turbines are often fried by solar arrays” is an exaggeration. First, the term “solar array” is ambiguous. It could refer to arrays of solar photo-voltaic (PV) panels, or to arrays of solar-reflecting panels at a concentrated solar-thermal power (CSP) plant. The arrays in the much more common PV plants are designed to absorb light (though not infra-red waves), whereas the latter are designed to reflect sunlight, particularly the infra-red part of the spectrum. It is the latter that has been implicated recently in killed and damaged birds, and in particular the one located in the desert near the Salton Sea in southern California. Apparently the arrays look like a water body to some birds, who are attracted to it.

Solar PV arrays may be ugly in some places, and their capital cost is expensive (but falling), but they are not a significant cause of bird deaths. Much, much more problematic are tall, glass-fronted buildings.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Good News? Where, what? Obama has just decided to refrain from prosecuting anyone for 30 years, essentially voiding a law intended to protect birds, on his own say-so as the imperial president for whom faithfully executing the laws does not appeal. He has found that he can void laws at his pleasure and no one will do anything about it.
Obama has decided that he is going to save the earth from a non-existent global warming with archaic methods of generating energy that are too expensive and not cost effective, and a burden on the landscape and the budget, while accomplishing nothing of value.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Isn’t it clear what I meant by “good news”? Your whole article starts with the “long overdue victory for the rule of law.”

What is good news is that, “[b]y bringing criminal charges against Duke for killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, Justice has ended the legal double standard on enforcement.” From a purely legal perspective, I’d be interested to know whether the law makes a distinction between bird kills caused by moving objects (such as wind-turbine blades) and those caused by immobile objects, such as tall, glass-fronted buildings and electric-power transmission lines — also big killers of birds.

Personally, as I think you have gathered by now, I am convinced by the scientific evidence that climate change is happening and that human activities are a major cause of it. Natural fluctuations in the solar activity also contribute, to be sure — sometimes augmenting the warming effect of greenhous gases in the atmosphere, sometimes offsetting it. But the trajectory is up. Don’t bother getting in an argument with me over this, just as I don’t challenge your opinion on this. I simply don’t have time to engage in long drawn-out argument on the topic.

My point is that, while I see a role for governments in responding to the threat of climate change, I am dismayed by how most are going about it. Giving heavy production tax credits for wind power and exempting wind turbines from laws designed to protect birds is not good policy.

The news of the successful prosecution of Duke Power gives me hope that if the Interior Department does start issuing permits that would let wind farms kill eagles for up to 30 years, or six times longer than the current permits allow, some group will successfully challenge that action in court and in so doing help expose the degree to which wind energy benefits from all manner of rule-bending.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

OK. You just have more hope on that path than I do. Yes, I recognize that you are a believer, and I have no intention of arguing with you. I am very troubled by the extent to which this president thinks that the rule of law does not apply to him, and his habit of bringing the full power of the government to bear on those who challenge him seems to be successfully scaring off those who have the nerve to try. Chicago politics, I guess.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

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