By Miriam Raftery
September 1, 2014 (Washington D.C.) – Two former investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are speaking out to say that the federal government is ignoring harm to wildlife caused by industrial scale wind and solar facilities.
While the government is prosecuting oil companies for violating laws protecting birds of prey, it is hypocritically giving permits that allow renewable energy companies to kill the same species, including federally protected eagles, without any consequences.
The National Review published an article featuring interviews with the whistleblowers.
Tim Eicher, a retired special agent with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says if birds are electrocuted or die in oil pits, they face prosecution. But regulators with the federal agencies believe that global warming justifies pushing through wind and solar without regard for bird deaths. He says, “They’re saving the planet, and if eagles die in the process, so be it.”
Dominic Dominici, another former investigator with the agency, confirms that the federal government is “prepared to turn a blind eye” to negative aspects of so-called green energy projects. Not only does the government fail to prosecute wind or solar companies that kill birds, they are now even granting those companies permits allowing them to kill protected bird species with no consequences. Anyone else doing so could face felony prosecution.
Case in point: Duke Energy. After investigators found 14 dead eagles and 149 other protected birds dead at Duke’s wind farms in Wyoming, the company did become the first renewable energy corporation to face prosecution for bird fatalities under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. But after paying fines far smaller than those imposed on fossil fuel companies for the same offense, the company was encouraged to apply for “take permits” from Fish & Wildlife which allow it to kill a designated number of eagles and other raptors in the future without further consequences.
The House Natural Resources Committee has attempted to investigate this bias in enforcement of laws protecting endangered and migratory birds. In March, the committee subpoenaed case files for federal investigations under the Migratory Bird Treat Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. But a committee representative told National review that Fish & Wildlife Services has stonewalled, failing to turn over complete records and submitted heavily redacted texts.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife does not comment on pending investigations or prosecutions.
Not everyone agrees that enforcement has been too selective. Mike Daulton, vice president of government relations at the Audubon Society, voiced skepticism and said he has heard that some cases are in the pipeline at the U.S. Department of Interior and the Justice Department.
But American Bird Conservancy director of public relations Bob Johns says numbers don’t lie, and there is a double standard. He cites Altamont’s wind farms in California, where at least 70 to 80 golden eagles have been killed each year now for many years – yet the company has never been prosecuted.
There have also not been any prosecutions made public against industrial-scale solar companies, not even Ivanpah, which some reports estimate may be responsible for 28,000 bird deaths a year. The solar flux technology appears to attract insects on which birds feed; the high-intensity beam from the solar tower at Ivanpah is burning birds alive including migratory waterfowl such as pelicans.
Eicher says that while fossil fuel companies can prevent many bird deaths with precautions such as putting netting over oil pits, there is nothing that can stop a wind turbine from killing eagles, other than shutting it off or tearing it down.
Major concerns have been raised by wildlife experts over potential eagle and other raptor deaths if Tule Wind is built in San Diego’s East County. The project was approved by the federal government based on studies conducted by David Bittner and paid for by energy companies. Bittner was convicted in federal court on charges of mishandling protected birds. He operated without licenses for years, refused to turn over tracking data on protected species to federal wildlife officials, and was found to have four freezers full of dead birds kept illegally, as East County Magazine has previously reported.