Crying fowl over US eagle policy

December 20, 2013

One of the by-products of social media is the rehashing of GIF-filled entertainment pages featuring cute animals, compilations of “photo bombs,” and other time-wasters. One of those is the “Things that bother people” meme of Web pages listing irritants shared by the tall, for example, or the short, introverted, extroverted, frizzy-haired, or Southern. The sharer posts the page in gentle self-deprecation, and fellow afflictees join in appreciation.

If there were a page of “Things that bother logical people,” I expect it would have to include the Obama administration’s position on wind turbines killing eagles and other federally protected species. The past few weeks have made that position … evident. Normally, the word “clear” would be called for there, but, well, you try to make sense of it:

— In late November, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a subsidiary of Duke Energy Corp., Duke Energy Renewables, pleaded guilty in federal court to violating laws against killing federally protected birds. Specifically, Duke’s wind turbines at two sites in Wyoming killed more than 160 federally protected birds, including 14 golden eagles. Duke was fined $1 million.

— In early December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a long-awaited rule (which readers of the John Locke Foundation’s “Locker Room” blog were warned about well over a year ago — see that extended the federally permitted time for wind power companies to kill federally protected bald and golden eagles from five years to 30 years.

FWS employs the euphemism “taking” in describing the slaughter of eagles by the wildly inefficient, intermittent and extremely unreliable, emissions-intensive (yes — owing to wind power’s unreliability, utilities have to keep conventional power stations as backup either running all the time or cycling on and off, offsetting or eclipsing direct reductions in emissions), unsustainable, expensive “Cuisinarts in the sky” favored by environmentalists.

In sum: a company whose wind turbines killed federally protected eagles had committed federal crimes punishable in court, and a company whose wind turbines kill federally protected eagles over the next three decades can do so scot-free.

The National Legal and Policy Center’s Paul Chesser has tried to get to the core difference between eagle killing by wind turbine that’s punishable and the kind of eagle killing by wind turbine that gets the Obama administration’s permission to keep on takin’ for the next 30 years. Chesser suggested that Duke Energy may have agreed to pay the relatively modest fine since its former CEO Jim Rogers was a major ally of the president, and the utility has been a cheerleader for the administration’s renewable energy campaign as a big-time buyer of solar and wind power assets.

The Obama administration’s contradictions concerning eagle protection go even further, however. It might warrant a second entry on the “Things that bother logical people” list.

Once a wind turbine smashes the “federally protected” eagle into a lifeless mash of blood, bones, and feathers, it is illegal for you to pick up or otherwise possess one of those feathers. An exception is made for members of a federally recognized Indian tribe.

That exception doesn’t include Lumbees, for example. The Lumbee Tribe is recognized by the state of North Carolina, not the federal government. The Lumbees’ highest honor involves the bestowal of an eagle feather.

It seems eagles are federally protected in the same way as was your keeping the health insurance plan and doctors you liked, period. But once the federally protected eagle is allowed to be smashed by federally subsidized inefficient energy sources, only federally approved tribe members may collect any unspoiled feathers from the federally protected corpse.

Jon Sanders is director of regulatory studies for the John Locke Foundation.