One standard for oil companies, another for green energy sources.
On Aug. 13, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had come into contact with crude oil or other pollutants in uncovered tanks or waste-water facilities on its properties. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees.
ExxonMobil is hardly alone in running afoul of this law. Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.
Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.
A July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, Calif., estimated that its turbines kill an average of 80 golden eagles per year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, also estimated that about 10,000 birdsnearly all protected by the migratory bird actare being whacked every year at Altamont.
Altamonts turbines, located about 30 miles east of Oakland, Calif., kill more than 100 times as many birds as Exxons tanks, and they do so every year. But the Altamont Pass wind farm does not face the same threat of prosecution, even though the bird kills at Altamont have been repeatedly documented by biologists since the mid-1990s.
The number of birds killed by wind turbines is highly variable. And biologists believe Altamont, which uses older turbine technology, may be the worst example. But that said, the carnage there likely represents only a fraction of the number of birds killed by windmills. Michael Fry of the American Bird Conservancy estimates that U.S. wind turbines kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year. Yet the Justice Department is not bringing cases against wind companies.
“Somebody has given the wind industry a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Mr. Fry told me. “If there were even one prosecution,” he added, the wind industry would be forced to take the issue seriously.
According to the American Wind Energy Association, the industrys trade association, each megawatt of installed wind-power results in the killing of between one and six birds per year. At the end of 2008, the U.S. had about 25,000 megawatts of wind turbines.
By 2030, environmental and lobby groups are pushing for the U.S. to be producing 20% of its electricity from wind. Meeting that goal, according to the Department of Energy, will require the U.S. to have about 300,000 megawatts of wind capacity, a 12-fold increase over 2008 levels. If that target is achieved, we can expect some 300,000 birds, at the least, to be killed by wind turbines each year.
On its Web site, the Wind Energy Association says that bird kills by wind turbines are a “very small fraction of those caused by other commonly accepted human activities and structuresâ€”house cats kill an estimated one billion birds annually.” That may be true, but it is not much of a defense. When cats kill birds, federal law doesnt require marching them to our courthouses to hold them responsible.
During the late 1980s and early 90s, Rob Lee was one of the Fish and Wildlife Services lead law-enforcement investigators on the problem of bird kills in Western oil fields. Now retired and living in Lubbock, Texas, Mr. Lee tells me that solving the problem in the oil fields “was easy and cheap.” The oil companies only had to put netting over their tanks and waste facilities.
Why arent wind companies prosecuted for killing eagles and other birds? “The fix here is not easy or cheap,” Mr. Lee told me. He added that he doesnt expect to see any prosecutions of the politically correct wind industry.
This is a double standard that more peopleand not just bird loversshould be paying attention to. In protecting Americas wildlife, federal law-enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to the harm done by “green” energy.
Original Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203706604574376543308399048.html