Environmental groups and the Senate GOP’s top environmental lawmaker are irate over a revised Interior Department rule, set to take effect in January, 2014. The modification will allow the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to grant much longer programmatic incidental “take” permits to industrial wind energy facilities, transmission projects and other long-term energy operations to avoid current penalties, should they accidentally kill or injure bald and golden eagles. The revised period for such industry protection will be thirty years, six times longer than the five-year term under current law.
Allegheny Treasures is pleased to offer the following discussion regarding this important topic with Mr. Larry Thomas, President of the Allegheny Highlands Alliance (AHA), which is a non-profit alliance of organizations and individuals representing several states. AHA is committed to protecting the mountain resources of the Allegheny Highlands.
AT Morgan: Welcome Mr. Thomas.
Mr. Thomas: Glad to be with you.
AT Morgan: AHA, the organization you represent, has taken a strong position on industrial wind in the Alleghenies, specifically the high ridgelines traversed by these magnificent animals. Yet the FWS has taken the position that it is necessary in order to further facilitate installation of industrial wind turbines at locations where the turbines present a clear risk to eagle populations. What is your view of the FWS position.
Mr. Thomas: We do not believe that anyone knows how many Bald and Golden Eagles there are, which is the reason 30 year take permits are a bad idea. There are no national studies confirming their numbers. Bald Eagles appear to be increasing in number, but many states stopped tracking their population around the year 2000. Golden Eagles have been estimated at 21,000 to 35,000 in western states in the lower 48 and 1,000 to 2,500 east of the Mississippi. Many experts believe their population is declining in the western U.S. and the eastern U.S. population is very small and vulnerable.
Unfortunately, even this six fold extension of authorized kills did not satisfy the wind industry. In a statement published Friday, December 6, immediately following the FWS announcement; the wind industry stated that they still are not satisfied. While praising the extension of “take” permits under the Bald and Golden Eagle Act from five years to a maximum of 30 years, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said that “additional concerns” about the permit rule’s impact on the wind industry would require more negotiation between wind companies, FWS and AWEA’s “partners in the conservation community.”
“[T]his rule must only be a first step in creating a rational and effective approach to eagle permitting,” AWEA said, “and we look forward to working with FWS, the Department of Interior and our partners in the conservation community to address additional permit program concerns through future revisions to the Permit Rule.”
AT Morgan: I included in a recent post comments from environmental groups who, to varying degrees, opposed the FWS ruling. Are there any commentaries which stood out to you?
Mr. Thomas: Save the Eagles International issued a biodiversity warning concerning the United States stating “contrary to the dubious studies financed and controlled by vested interests, the population of golden eagles in the Western States is on the decline. Wind farms are the main cause. The issuing of licenses to kill will accelerate the decline towards extinction.” Further, “considering that the Eastern and Central States are not acting any better, it is biodiversity in the whole of the contiguous 48 states which is in peril, including other species such as the Whooping Crane. No amount of bad science financed by the wind industry and government agencies has been able to convince honest conservationists that wind farms don’t harm bird and bat populations.”
Mark Duchamp, Save the Eagles International president, wrote the following letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, which we provide for your convenience.
“Dear Interior Secretary Salley Jewell,
As president of Save the Eagles International, I consider it my duty to make you aware of certain realities that your advisors won’t tell you about.
Allowing wind farms to legally kill eagles will result in the extinction of the Golden Eagle in the United States (1). It will cause numerous deaths in the Bald Eagle population.
Many more birds of prey will be slaughtered, causing some species to disappear from the contiguous United States. It turns out that wind turbines ATTRACT raptors (2). This is due to various reasons (3). No amount of mitigation will stop them from being decimated by the deadly blades: thirty years of efforts to solve the problem have failed. Compensation measures won’t help either, as young raptors born anywhere will eventually come in contact with the ubiquitous machines.
Wind turbines also attract insects, which in turn attract bats, swallows and swifts to their death (4). Bats are slow reproducers, and are already in decline due to White Nose Syndrome. Their disappearance would cause immense damage to agriculture.
For all of the above, I respectfully warn you that President Obama’s windfarm policy will cause a biodiversity catastrophe in the United States.
As you mentioned before, many other environmental organizations have now stated their concerns with this revised rule and some have stated that they will be taking action. To highlight a few:
The National Audubon Society took a particularly strong stand, stating: “Tell Interior Secretary Jewell the issuing of a 30-year incidental take permit for wind farms is unconscionable, and must be reversed.
AT Morgan: What is the stated position of the Allegheny Highlands Alliance?
Mr. Thomas: The many organizations which form AHA are deeply concerned with this revised rule and documented attempts to circumvent existing Federal and state laws through governmental mandates, failures to enforce those laws that protect…and blatant disregard of those laws by the industrial wind energy industry.
As a result of our research AHA has concluded that compliance with major Federal and State laws established for the protection of our “Commons” is being circumvented, blatantly ignored and consciously broken by this industry and the federal and state agencies charged with enforcement thereof are ignoring their responsibilities. The industrial wind energy project developers and operators are relying on lack of staff and funding at federal and state agencies to provide adequate monitoring of their projects.
AT Morgan: Perhaps you could provide examples of AHA’s concerns.
Mr. Thomas: We are concerned regarding compliance to existing regulations. For example:
In 1973 Congress passed the Endangered Species Act to “provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend may be conserved, and to provide a program for the conservation of these species.”
The National Environmental Protection Act which was the first major environmental law enacted in the United States and is often called the “Magna Carta” of environmental laws.
The Bald Eagle Protection Act is extremely comprehensive, prohibiting the take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, or offer to sell, purchase, or barter, export or import of the bald eagle at any time or in any manner. In 1962, Congress amended the Bald Eagle Protection Act to cover golden eagles, a move that was partially an attempt to strengthen protection of bald eagles, since the latter were often killed by people mistaking them for golden eagles. The golden eagle, however, is accorded somewhat lighter protection under the Act than the bald eagle.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act implements the United States’ commitment to four bilateral treaties, or conventions, for the protection of a shared migratory bird resource. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects over 800 species of birds that occur in the United States.
Federal and state decision makers must also consider the provisions and requirements of the National Forest Management Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Historic Preservation Act to assess the impact of industrial wind energy projects.
Additionally, numerous government agencies have spent enormous amounts of time and money developing ways to protect, preserve, or rehabilitate watershed areas on a regional scale and must be taken into consideration by the Federal and state decision makers in any consideration to allow the siting of industrial wind energy projects in “The Commons”. We list these projects to protect our environment on our website.
AT Morgan: Perhaps, for the benefit of our readers, you could summarize the goals of the Allegheny Highlands Alliance.
Mr. Thomas: First, it is important to note that the Allegheny Highlands Alliance (AHA) is a non-profit organization … a consortium of citizen/environment organizations with membership in five states along the Allegheny Front. Our organization is in the process of discovering the facts about industrial wind, its potential to reduce green house gases, its economics and the impact of industrial wind energy project installations on the ecology and human health.
Perhaps our goal is best explained by our Mission Statement – PROTECTING OUR MOUNTAINS FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.
The purposes of AHA include:
- To advance public knowledge and understanding of the cultural, biological, environmental diversity, uniqueness, and sensitivity of the major ridgelines that comprise the Allegheny Highlands;
- To preserve and protect areas of particular scenic, geologic, biologic, historic, wilderness, and/or recreational importance in the Allegheny Highlands;
- To aid in the establishment of responsible policies to protect scientific, educational or aesthetic values;
- To conduct regional and resource studies as a basis for the wise use of the various resources of the Allegheny Highlands; to develop programs in energy conservation and wise production; and to serve local communities, the region, the people of the Allegheny Highlands as an agency for popular enlightenment, for cultural improvement, and for scientific advancement;
- To advocate governmental policies for the conservation and wise management of energy and natural resources of the Allegheny Highlands.
AT Morgan: Thank you, Mr. Thomas
Mr. Thomas: You’re welcome!
AT Note: Should individuals or groups wish additional information, Mr. Thomas can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.