Use the talons: Justice must crack down on eagle deaths

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The Obama administration has long supported renewable energy sources such as wind power that do not create the pollution associated with climate change. That is wise as far as it goes, but its wisdom so far has not extended to being tough on wind farms that kill birds in excessive numbers.

On Friday, the administration belatedly made up for its selective enforcement by reaching a settlement with Duke Energy Corp. and its renewable energy division, which pleaded guilty to killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds at two Wyoming sites.

Although the administration had targeted traditional fossil fuel companies with the same law, this was the first time a wind firm had been prosecuted. “In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Robert G. Dreher of the Justice Department’s Environmental and Natural Resources Division.

Unfortunately, a penalty of $1 million is small change for an offense that needs to be deterred precisely because it is so common. In May, The Associated Press reported that dozens of eagle deaths have been caused by wind energy farms. In September, a federal study found that wind turbines had killed at least 67 bald and golden eagles in the last five years.

Although it is well known that wind farms are a lethal threat to migratory birds and bats, eagles — majestic raptors that gave the nation its most compelling symbol — have a special claim on the nation’s affections.

As George Fenwick, president of the American Bird Conservancy, said: “wind energy is not green if it’s killing hundreds of thousands of birds.” Although wind energy companies say they are addressing the issue, clearly much more must be done, by siting wind farms with a view to bird behavior and deterring birds before they hit turbines.

The government needs to be tough. A person who shot an eagle with a rifle would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Wind energy companies should be, too.

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