The Obama administration announced Friday that it would allow certain wind farms to kill or injure bald eagles without penalty for up to 30 years, in an effort to encourage companies to invest in green energy. The controversial move highlights a dilemma faced by many environmentalists: the fact that wind power, while better for the environment than fossil fuels, carries its own cost in the form of injured animals who happen to wander too close to turbines.

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Image © US Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast

Under the new policy, wind farms will be allowed to purchase permits allowing a certain number of injured or killed birds per year. The move follows an investigation earlier this year by the Associated Press, which found that the administration had been overlooking the illegal killing of birds and declining to prosecute offenders.

In some ways, the new policy represents progress — while companies are not obligated to report on eagle deaths now, in the future they will be required to file annual reports with the Department of the Interior. This should give a more accurate picture of how turbines are actually affecting eagle populations, since power companies won’t face legal repercussions for accurately reporting the numbers.

The program isn’t intended to be a free pass. If more eagles are harmed on a wind farm than initially estimated by the company, they will be forced to take measures to reduce their impact on wildlife, and they may eventually lose their legal protection if their record is poor enough. Unfortunately, it sounds like the administration isn’t planning on making any rapid changes, and is leaving the door open for companies to renew their permits for up to 30 years if an “acceptable” level of eagle deaths occur.

As one might expect, conservation groups are not happy about the policy shift. While the bald eagle is no longer classified as an endangered or threatened species, as America’s national bird, it is near and dear to many people’s hearts. The Audubon society plans to challenge the decision, which its president David Yarnold characterized as “[writing] the wind industry a blank check.”

Via The Guardian

Lead image © Pen Waggener