News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Obama administration giving wind energy a free pass on deaths of eagles
May 20, 2013 - By Dina Cappiello, The Associated Press
CONVERSE COUNTY -- Wind farms in this part of Wyoming have killed more than four dozen golden eagles since 2009, one of the deadliest places in the country of its kind.
But so far, the companies operating industrial-sized turbines here and elsewhere that are killing eagles and other protected birds have yet to be fined or prosecuted - even though every death is a criminal violation.
The Obama administration has charged oil companies for drowning birds in their waste pits, and power companies for electrocuting birds on power lines.
But the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind-energy company, even those that flout the law repeatedly.
"What it boils down to is this: If you electrocute an eagle, that is bad, but if you chop it to pieces, that is OK," said Tim Eicher, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement agent based in Cody.
It's a double standard that some Republicans in Congress said Tuesday they would examine after an Associated Press investigation revealed that the Obama administration has shielded the wind power industry from liability and helped keep the scope of the deaths secret.
"We obviously don't want to see indiscriminate killing of birds from any sort of energy production, yet the administration's ridiculous inconsistencies begs questioning and clarity-- clarity on why wind energy producers are let off the hook," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
The House Natural Resources Committee, which was at the beginning stages of an investigation, vowed to dig deeper Tuesday.
"There are serious concerns that the Obama administration is not implementing this law fairly and equally," said Jill Strait, a spokeswoman for the committee's chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash.
Wind power, a pollution-free energy intended to ease global warming, is a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's energy plan. His administration has championed a $1 billion-a-year tax break to the industry that has nearly doubled the amount of wind power in his first term.
"Climate change is really greatest threat that we see to species conservation in long run," said Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe in an interview with the AP on Monday. "We have an obligation to support well-designed renewable energy."
But like the oil industry under President George W. Bush, lobbyists and executives have used their favored status to help steer U.S. energy policy.
The result is a green industry that's allowed to do not-so-green things.