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The company behind a Wyoming wind farm pleaded guilty to killing more than a dozen eagles and other birds with the farm's wind turbines, agreeing to pay $1 million in fines.
Duke Energy plead guilty to killing more than 160 birds, including 14 golden eagles from 2009 to 2013 at two wind farms in Wyoming, reports the Los Angeles Times. This plea marks the first successful criminal conviction for a wind farm under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Criminal Conviction for Bird Killings
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) was enacted in 1918 between the U.S. and Great Britain to prohibit the killing of birds which often migrate between the U.S. and Canada. The law was challenged shortly thereafter by the state of Missouri, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the treaty trumped state law.
Today, the treaty covers migratory bird conventions between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia and includes (among hundreds of other species) bald, golden, and white-tailed eagles.
The federal law calls for any corporation who violates the MBTA to be fined a maximum of $15,000. But when you consider there were at least 160 violations of the law for each bird killed, the fine amount looks more like $2.4 million. A $1 million plea bargain for Duke Energy seems like a much better deal in this context.
This case is the first enforcement of the MBTA against a "wind turbine company," but The Associated Press reports that the Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating "18 bird-death cases involving wind-power facilities."
Preventing Future Avian Deaths
Duke Energy wants eagles to be able to migrate without being shorn in two by giant turbine blades, but doing so may prove expensive. Radar technology that detects eagles and hiring field biologists to watch for birds may cost Duke Energy around "$600,000 per year," the Times reported.
Federal officials harped on the company's non-compliance with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's guidelines on wind turbines, despite the fact that Duke Energy built its Wyoming sites prior to the regulations' creation.
In addition to moving toward preventing eagle deaths, the Times reports the money from Duke Energy's $1 million in restitution and fines will be split between:
Things are certainly looking up for eagles.