Between 1997 and 2012, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers counted 86 bald and golden eagle deaths at wind farms nationwide, and this month the Obama Administration officially says that's OK.
A new federal rule will provide legal protection for wind energy companies when bald and golden eagles are inadvertently killed by wind turbines, if companies record the deaths and take measures to avoid killing protected birds. The new permits, which go into effect on January8, last for 30 years, with reviews every five years.
Although neither eagle species is on The Endangered Species List—bald eagles were delisted in 2007—it is illegal to kill or hunt either eagle without a proper permit.
Federal wildlife officials defend the rule. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement: "The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations."
However, conservation groups see the rule as the federal government robbing Peter to pay Paul—snubbing environmental conservation to boost renewable energy.
"A 30-year permits is like a blank check," David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, told The New York Times. "It basically says you can go operate these wind turbines and kill as many eagles as happen to die."
Federal electricity use is expected to draw seven percent from renewable sources in 2013. On December 5, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the federal government to source 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources such as solar power and wind by 2020.