Cats, glass windows and vehicles: These pose the biggest threats to birds in the United States. But President Donald Trump is continuing to falsely claim that wind turbines are to blame for the deaths of the nation’s birds.
During Thursday night’s final presidential debate between the president and former Vice President Joe Biden, Mr. Trump reiterated his stance against wind energy with a peculiar claim: It “kills all the birds.”
“I know more about wind than you do,” Mr. Trump told Biden when moderator Kristen Welker turned to the topic of climate change. “It’s extremely expensive. Kills all the birds. It’s very intermittent. Got a lot of problems.”
Do wind turbines kill birds?
According to a recent study, North America has lost more than a quarter of its bird population since 1970, a possible sign of an ecological crisis. And while wind turbines are responsible for some bird deaths, they are nowhere near the biggest threat to bird populations in the nation.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cats are the number one threat to birds, responsible for approximately 2.4 billion bird deaths each year. Collisions with building glass are the next deadliest threat, killing about 599 million birds, followed by collisions with vehicles, which cause about 214.5 million bird deaths.
Collisions with electrical lines and communication towers, ingesting poison, and oil pits are also more deadly for birds than collisions with wind turbines, which cause about 234,000 bird deaths per year on average.
“Bird kills [by wind turbines] are limited to less than 0.02% of the total populations of songbird species, and orders of magnitude less than other causes,” the president’s own Department of Energy says on its website. “Over the past two decades, the impact of wind development on birds has been greatly reduced by improvements in turbine design and particularly through improved project and turbine siting.”
Millions of acres of bird habitat are additionally lost or degraded each year due to development, agriculture and forestry practices. Only through habitat restoration and protection can the long-lasting impacts on bird populations be mitigated, officials say.
In January, the Trump administration tried to eliminate penalties for industries that kill migratory birds, weakening a century-old bird protection law. A federal court recently blocked the rollback, siding with environmental groups.
Fact-checking Trump’s other claims about wind energy
Mr. Trump has long been against wind energy, claiming in 2019 that windmills reduce the value of nearby homes by 75% — a claim that has been refuted by multiple studies, which either show no negative impact or values falling in the single-digit percentages.
In the same speech, the president also claimed that noise pollution from turbines causes cancer — a claim that has never been validated. “The American Cancer Society is unaware of any credible evidence linking the noise from windmills to cancer,” the organization told CBS News on Friday.
In comparison, pollution from coal plants, which Mr. Trump has championed, is linked to heart disease, respiratory issues and lung cancer.
As for the president’s claim that it’s “extremely expensive,” prices of renewable energy have fallen dramatically. In most of the U.S., it’s now cheaper to build a new solar or wind farm than to keep an existing coal plant running.
And Biden’s assertion about renewable energy providing a plethora of new jobs backed up by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. is wind turbine service technician.
The president also claimed Thursday night that wind power is “intermittent,” echoing past claims that people will lose power on wind-free days. However, energy generated by turbines is fed into the electrical grid, which is able to handle the variability of any power source.
“Power grid operators have always had to deal with variability,” the Department of Energy says. “Grid operators use the interconnected power system to access other forms of generation when contingencies occur and continually turn generators on and off when needed to meet the overall grid demand.”
The DOE notes that adding renewable power sources to the grid will not change how the process works, and studies show the grid can accommodate “large penetrations of variable renewable power without sacrificing reliability.”
By Sophie Lewis, CBS News