By Miriam Raftery
July 2, 2014 (San Diego’s East County)--Eagles, America’s national symbols, have special status under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Killing an eagle, or engaging in activities that lead to the death of an eagle, is currently punishable by a $5,000 fine and one year in prison. Felony convictions can result in far stiffer penalties – up to a $250,000 fine or two years in prison – and the fine for an organization that kills an eagle can be up to a half a million dollars.
Despite numerous eagle deaths from wind turbines in the U.S., wind energy companies had not been held responsible for those killings – until recently. In December, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a $1 million fine against Duke Energy Renewables for 14 eagle deaths at its industrial wind project in Wyoming.
But now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced plans that if approved, would let wind developers largely off the hook for future eagle deaths. The federal wildlife agency that is supposed to protect wildlife is proposing a rule change that if approved, would allow wind energy developers and other corporations to apply for eagle take permits that last 30 years, up from five years currently allowed under a 2009 decision, a plan that had already proved controversial. A take permit, if approved, allows a designated number of eagles to be killed inadvertently with no penalty to the corporation.
That’s disturbing news to residents and environmentalists here in San Diego’s East County, where the local eagle population has dropped sharply in recent years. While no one is certain why the number of eagle nests and nesting pairs have declined here, the drop has occurred at the same time our region’s first two industrial-scale wind energy projects were built in Campo and Ocotillo.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will host five public information meetings in various locations around the country and open a 90-day public comment period on its proposal. While none of the hearings are in San Diego, there will be a hearing held on July 22 in Sacramento and on July 29 in Albequerque. Other meetings are set in Minneapolis, Denver, and Washington D.C. this summer. For more information about the public information meetings, please http://www.eaglescoping.org.
The public information sessions will serve as scoping meetings as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Information from the meetings will be reviewed by the Fish & Wildlife Service as the agency parepares either a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as well as proposed revisions to the permit regulations. The Service will then open another comment period for an additional round of public review and input before announcing its final decisions.
Written comments on this proposal will be accepted by the agency up until September 22, 2014, either electronically or by U.S. Mail.
Written comments must be submitted on or before Sept. 22, 2014, either electronically: Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov, FWS-R2- MB-2011-0094 or by U.S. mail to Public Comments Processing, Attention: Eagle Management and Permitting FWS-R2-MB-2011-0094; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM, Arlington, VA 22203.