Today, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) welcomes the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS) final rule to extend the total maximum duration of take permits allowed for under the 2009 Eagle Permit Rule.
However, this rule must only be a first step in creating a rational and effective approach to eagle permitting, 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.
The FWS extension of the maximum duration available for eagle “take” permits will allow permittees, including wind farm operators, to provide conservation benefits for eagles while granting wind energy companies, and other potential permittees – such as oil and gas exploration and production, mining, military bases, airports, telecommunication tower developers, utility line owners, etc. – a degree of longer-term legal and financial certainty, which is important to the viability of any business.
“This permit program promotes eagle conservation,” said John Anderson, Director of Siting Policy for the American Wind Energy Association. “Congress actually sanctioned it decades ago by specifically authorizing a permit program under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.”
The wind industry does more to address its impacts on eagles than any of the other, far greater sources of eagle fatalities known to wildlife experts, and we are constantly striving to reduce these impacts even further. In fact, the wind industry has taken the most proactive and leading role of any utility-scale energy source to minimize wildlife impacts in general, and specifically for eagles, through constantly improving siting and monitoring techniques.
That said, fatalities of golden eagles at modern wind facilities are not a common occurrence and, in fact, represent less than 2 percent of all documented sources of human-caused eagle fatalities, and in the history of the industry only a few bald eagles have died in collisions with turbines. And, recent research finds that golden eagle populations are stable or slightly increasing across the American West.
The eagle “take” permit, authorized under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, was not developed for nor is it specific to the wind industry, but rather available to all sources of human-caused eagle mortality. Specifically, it is designed for the express purpose of protecting eagle populations by providing much-needed conservation benefits in exchange for very limited take authorization.
These permits are authorized only under carefully controlled conditions, after all steps have been taken to first avoid and minimize to the greatest extent possible the potential for take, and then fully offsetting the expected impacts through the implementation of significant mitigation measures.
In addition to mitigation, there are other stringent requirements in order to obtain an eagle permit, including the need to perform multiple years of pre- and post-construction monitoring, making changes to the project design at the request of the FWS, lost revenue associated with changes to facility layout and operations, providing upfront mitigation for losses that may or may not occur (based on a highly conservative model that over estimates potential impact), etc., and at present no guarantees that more mitigation funding or operational restrictions will not be required in the future, regardless of what is negotiated with the FWS during the permit process. All of this represents a business risk for developers that should not be taken lightly.
By undertaking these efforts it is expected that the permit program will provide for the long-term conservation of eagle populations by not only addressing the permitted activity but also the impacts of others already occurring in the landscape today.
Further, the change in permit duration also makes this program more consistent with the Endangered Species Act’s (ESA’s) take permit program, widely considered to be the gold standard for wildlife protection, which already provides for life-of-activity authorization – in some instances lasting 40-60 years – for species that are considered more imperiled than eagles. Throughout its 40-year history, these ESA take permits have provided a workable pathway for businesses to conduct economic development activities while protecting wildlife. This change to the eagle permit program is merely an effort to mirror that success, although eagles are not endangered species.
In summary, this permit duration change will facilitate much needed, long-term eagle conservation efforts, while allowing wind companies to continue to increase the amount of clean, renewable, affordable energy they supply to American consumers. Wind energy already reduces carbon dioxide pollution by nearly 100 million tons per year in the United States, and expanding its development is one of the cheapest, fastest, most readily scalable ways available now to address climate change – which experts and the leading wildlife conservation groups widely view as the single greatest threat to eagles and other wildlife.