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White House to allow eagle deaths to help wind power

Photo shows a golden eagle flying over a wind turbine on Duke energy's top of the world wind farm in Converse County Wyo. (AP)
Photo shows a golden eagle flying over a wind turbine on Duke energy's top of the world wind farm in Converse County Wyo. (AP)
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Updated: 12/07/2013 9:05 pm
WASHINGTON, (D.C.) -- A controversy over our national bird is pitting environmentalists against each other. 

The American bald eagle has made a remarkable comeback from the brink of extinction, but now one of the biggest threats to the bird could be green energy powered by wind.

The Obama administration just announced new rules for wind turbine facilities that grant 30-year permits allowing for the accidental killing of bald and golden eagles.

The new rule is designed to address environmental consequences that stand in the way of the nation's wind energy rush: the dozens of bald and golden eagles being killed each year by the giant, spinning blades of wind turbines.

Companies would have to take additional measures if they killed or injured more eagles than they had estimated they would, or if new information suggested that eagle populations were being affected. 

The permits would be reviewed every five years, and companies would have to submit reports of how many eagles they killed.  Now, such reporting is voluntary, and the Interior Department refuses to release the information.

Killing a bald eagle has been a crime since 1940 with a punishment of thousands of dollars in fines and possible prison time.

The National Wildlife Federation said it supports of wind power but not this new rule.

“You have to provide more certainty for the eagles and make sure they're protected,” said NWF spokesman John Kostyack.

"This is not a program to kill eagles," said John Anderson, the director of siting policy at the American Wind Energy Association. "This permit program is about conservation."

The Department of the Interior maintains the new permitting rule with allow it to better protect and monitor eagles while growing the wind industry.

"The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations," Secretary Sally Jewell said. 

A study by federal biologists in September found that wind farms since 2008 had killed at least 67 bald and golden eagles, a number that the researchers said was likely underestimated. That did not include deaths at Altamont Pass, an area in northern California where wind farms kill an estimated 60 eagles each year.

It's unclear what toll, if any, wind energy companies are having on eagle populations locally or regionally. Gunshots, electrocutions and poisonings almost certainly kill more bald and golden eagles than wind farms. But the toll could grow along with the industry.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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