It’s time to apply endangered species, wildlife and economic laws fairly and equitably
“… gleaming white wind turbines generating carbon-free electricity carpet chaparral-covered ridges and march down into valleys of Joshua trees.” This is “the future” of American energy – not “the oil rigs planted helter-skelter in [nearby] citrus groves,” nor the “smoggy San Joaquin Valley” a few miles away.
The Forbes article’s poetic paean to Aeolian energy nevertheless voiced consternation that a 300-megawatt “green” turbine project might kill some of the magnificent California condors that are just coming back from the edge of extinction – and the project might be cancelled as a result.
Indeed, the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has asked Kern County to “exercise extreme caution” in approving projects in the Tehapachi area, because of potential threats to condors. The “conundrum will force some hard choices about the balance we are willing to strike between obtaining clean energy and preserving wild things,” the article suggested. Hopefully, it concluded, new “avian radar units” will be able to detect condors and automatically shut down turbines when one approaches.
All Americans hope condors will not be sliced and diced by giant Cuisinarts. But most of us are puzzled that so few “environmentalists” and FWS “caretakers” express concern about the countless bald and golden eagles, hawks, falcons, vultures, ducks, geese, bats and other rare, threatened, endangered and common flying creatures imperiled by turbine blades.
And many of us get downright angry at the selective, indeed hypocritical ways in which endangered species and other wildlife laws are applied – leaving wind turbine operators free to exact their carnage, while harassing and punishing oil companies and citizens.
In 2011, following an intensive million-dollar, 45-day helicopter search for dead birds in North Dakota oil fields by FWS officials, US Attorney Timothy Purdon prosecuted seven oil and gas companies for inadvertently killing 28 mallard ducks, flycatchers and other common birds that were found dead in or near uncovered waste pits. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the companies and their executive officers faced fines of up to $15,000 per bird, plus six months in prison. (They eventually agreed to plead guilty and pay $1,000 per bird.)
Also in 2011, an FWS agent charged an 11-year-old Virginia girl with illegally “taking” a baby woodpecker that the girl had rescued from a housecat, even though she intended to release the bird after ensuring it was OK. The threatened $535 fine was finally dropped, after the FWS was deservedly ridiculed in the media.
The mere possession of an eagle feather by a non-Indian can result in fines and imprisonment, even if the feather came from a bird butchered by a wind turbine: up to $100,000, a year in prison or both for a first offense. Poisoning or otherwise killing common bats that have nested in one’s attic can cost homeowners thousands of dollars in fines.
Wind turbine companies, officers and employees, however, are immune from prosecution, fines or imprisonment, regardless of how many rare, threatened, endangered or migratory birds and bats they kill. In fact, FWS data show that wind turbines slaughter some 400,000 birds every year. If “helter-skelter” applies to any energy source, it is wind turbines, reflecting their Charles Manson effect on birds.
The hypocritical Obama-Purdon-FWS policy certainly protects, promotes and advances an anti-hydrocarbon, catastrophic global warming agenda that is increasingly at odds with environmental, scientific, economic, job-creation and public opinion reality. It also safeguards wind turbines that survive solely because of government mandates, taxpayer subsidies … and exemptions from laws that penalize and terrorize the rest of us.
It may be true that housecats and reflective windows kill more songbirds than turbines do. However, that oft-cited defense of wind energy Cuisinarts is irrelevant to the birds and bats discussed here.
Even if avian radar and turbine shutdown systems do eventually work, and can actually and abruptly stop turbine blades before they butcher an approaching bird, should they be limited to condors? Shouldn’t they be required for eagles and falcons – and for hawks, ducks, flycatchers, bats and other protected species? Geese, for example, to prevent a repeat of the December 7, 2011 massacre of numerous snow geese by wind turbines along upstate New York Route 190, as reported by a motorist?
Why aren’t wind developers and permitting authorities required to consider the lost economic benefits of butchered birds and bats, which do so much to control rats and insects that carry diseases and destroy crops? Shouldn’t that analysis be made mandatory, as more wind projects are proposed, thereby posing an ever-increasing threat to numerous species – and even to the survival of some?
Of course, even condor protection alone could reduce affected turbine electricity output to 20 or even 10% of rated capacity, instead of their current 30% average. Adding other protected species would drive nearly all actual wind turbine electricity output down below 5% – making the turbines virtually worthless, and driving the exorbitant cost of wind energy even higher.
But why should wind turbines be above the law? In fact, why should we even worry about reducing their electricity output?
America’s environmentalists, legislators, judges and bureaucrats have already made hundreds of millions of acres of resource-rich land off limits – and rendered centuries of oil, gas, coal, uranium, geothermal and other energy unavailable. The Environmental Protection Agency’s anti-coal zero-pollution rules, intense opposition to the Keystone pipeline, and looming restrictions on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas are already further impairing electricity and other energy availability and reliability.
This government-imposed energy deprivation is already driving families into energy poverty and sending more jobs overseas.
Put bluntly, wind energy is unsustainable. It kills unconscionable numbers of bats, raptors and other birds. It requires billions in perpetual subsidies – and billions more for (mostly) gas-fired backup generators. It impacts millions of acres of scenic, wildlife and agricultural land – and depends on vast amounts of raw materials, whose extraction and processing further impairs global land, air and water quality. Its expensive, unreliable electricity kills two jobs for every one supposedly created.
A far more rational public policy would cut out the costly, unreliable middleman. It would forget about wind turbines, simply build more gas, coal and nuclear generators, to generate reliable, affordable, sustainable electricity – and apply the same laws fairly and equitably to all energy sources.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death.