Bill to Gut Bird Protection Laws

A bill that would seriously curtail the reach of two major federal bird protection laws has been introduced in the House of Representatives, and its sponsors clearly intend the measure as a boon to the renewable energy industry.

The bill, H.R. 493, would require that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant permits of at least 30 years’ duration to industries that run the risk of killing eagles, a major overhaul of the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. USFWS would have just a year to process each permit, and missing that deadline would absolve the applicant of all liability under the act.

A shorter second section of the bill would likely have even more wide ranging impact. That section would change the landmark Migratory Bird Treaty Act to cover only intentional harm inflicted on individual birds, meaning that the law would no longer cover the biggest threats to the hundreds of species the law currently covers.

The bill, introduced January 22 by South Carolina Republican Representative Jeff Duncan, has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

The bill’s formal name provides a clear indication that it’s intended as a gift to the energy industry. It’s called the Clarification of Legal Enforcement Against Non-criminal Energy Producers Act of 2015, or the CLEAN Energy Producers Act. That’s an obvious reference to the mounting issue of bird deaths at wind and solar power facilities, though the act’s likely largest beneficiaries will likely be oil and gas producers and electric utilities. And it says so right on the tin, in the bill’s subtitle: “To update avian protection laws in order to support an all-of-the-above domestic energy strategy, and for other purposes.”

As we reported in 2013, oil and gas companies are subject by USFWS to much more stringent enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act than their wind and solar counterparts, with charges brought against companies over the accidental deaths of single birds.

Likewise, though wind turbines are increasing culprits in the deaths of large raptors such as bald and golden eagles, some of the largest fines levied against companies for accidental eagle deaths under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act have fallen to electric utilities, whose power lines pose both impact and electrocution hazards to the large birds.

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