Oil companies face heavy fines: Wind farms get a free pass
Seven oil companies have recently been charged in federal court with killing migratory birds that died after allegedly landing in oil waste pits in western North Dakota. The charges involve 28 dead birds that were discovered in oil waste pits between May 6 and June 20. The maximum penalty for each charge under the Migratory Bird Act is six months in prison and a $15,000 fine. (1)
There’s more: In July 2009, Pacificorp agreed to pay $10.5 million in fines, restitution and equipment upgrade costs for the deaths of at least 232 golden eagles, 46 hawks, 50 owls and nearly 200 other birds that had been electrocuted in Wyoming since January 2007. The cost per bird computes to a little less than $20,000. (2) “On August 13, 2009, ExxonMobil pled guilty in federal court to charges that it killed 85 birds—all of which were protected under the Migratory Bird Act. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees for the bird kills, which occurred after the animals came in contact with hydrocarbons in uncovered tanks and waste water facilities on company properties located in five western states,” reports Robert Bryce. Each bird kill cost the company over $7,000. (3)
The Fish and Wildlife service estimated in 2009 that about 440,000 birds were being killed by wind turbines. Yet the wind industry has yet to face a single charge.
One example is a study by the Alameda County Community Development Agency which reported that 10,000 annual bird deaths occur in the Altamont Pass wind turbines in northern California. Deaths include 75 to 100 golden eagles, 380 burrowing owls, 300 red-tailed hawks, and 333 American kestrels(falcons) killed annually be Altamont turbines. (4)
With an anticipated twelve-fold energy build-out by the year 2030, bird mortality is expected to dramatically increase in the coming years, absent significant changes in the way wind farms are sited and operated.
So, what’s the life of a bird worth? If you’re Big Oil it can range from $7,000 to $20,000 per bird. Yet, if you’re wind energy, it costs nothing. There are hundreds of cases that federal officials have brought against oil and gas companies over the last two decades for violations of the Migratory Bird Act, a statute on the books since 1918. No question the cases were justified, but not one case was brought against wind farms even though they kill many more birds. Somebody has given the wind industry a get-out-of-jail-free card.
When it comes to protecting America’s wildlife, environmental organizations and federal law enforcement officials have a double standard: one that’s enforced against oil, gas and electric utility sectors, and another that exempts wind and solar power from prosecution despite evidence of a multitude of violations.
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