Wildlife vs Wind Power – the Choice is Yours

At a recent Global LAVA meeting, Steve Masur, was talking about California and the perception that it is an unattractive place to do business – taxes, regulations, housing costs, etc.  Broadly, he was pointing at us and telling us it is the result of the choices we make during elections.  The tax, regulatory and political environment is a result of the electorate putting these policies, politicians and priorities in place.  

He is right, of course.  In a diverse, liberal society it comes down to trade-offs.  And we, the people,  make the trade-offs via our choices.  In the environmental arena, some are easy with obvious benefits and obvious costs – like the legislation from the 1970s in favor of clean water and clean air.  We, as a people, said the benefit of clean air and water is worth the significant costs.

Some not so easy – like cheap energy vs. global warming that occupy our political attention.  We, as a society, have not yet decided the cost is worth the effort to reduce greenhouse emissions.  Our government is investing in the development of renewable energy at the margins, but the technology is still many years, perhaps decades from being cheap, reliable and sustainable.  And society isn’t sure the benefits are worth the cost, particularly if our local actions have little global impact if other societies decide to pursue other policies and practices to exploit cheap energy. 

It is becoming increasingly apparent that we’ll be confronting more and more of these not so easy trade-offs between people, the local environment and the planet.  We are going to find the costs of these trade-offs increase substantially because so many of our earlier trade-offs constrain our current choices.  And that decisions that have planet wide impacts necessarily involve much more expensive alternatives.  So our future will have us making choices that are not only painful, but expensive.  We’re not quite at the straits with either Scylla or Charybdis as options – but we’re getting there quickly.

To illustrate that we’re not there quite yet, but that the choices are becoming significantly constrained, consider a recent announcement in the Federal Register concerning extending the period and expense of permits that allow taking of eagles by renewable energy producers.  Simply, this is a permit allowing the killing of  eagles coincident to wind farm operations.  It is a trade-off between local environmental protection of wildlife and promotion of alternative energy generation.

Any Federal action that has environmental consequences have to be published in the Federal Register and the public is provided a period to express their concern or support for the proposed action.  An announcement (in tomorrow’s Federal Register) is extending the comment period for another 60 days – Changes in Regulations Governing Eagle Permitting.

On April 13, 2012, we proposed revisions to the regulations governing permits for take of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) and bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), where the take is associated with, but not the purpose of, an activity (see 77 FR 22267, April 13, 2012). We proposed to extend the maximum term for a programmatic permit from 5 to 30 years, if the permit incorporates conditions requiring implementation of additional measures to ensure the preservation of eagles, if needed. This change would facilitate the responsible development of renewable energy and other projects that will be in operation for many decades while being consistent with statutory mandates protecting eagles.

So here is your chance to actively participate in making a trade-off.  Give your opinion about a pending federal action that provides a renewable operator a 30 year permit to take eagles.  The choice is simple.  The choice is important.  The choice is yours.

Electronic comments on the proposal published at 77 FR 22267, April 13, 2012, must be submitted via http://www.regulations.gov by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on July 12, 2012. Comments submitted by mail must be postmarked no later than July 12, 2012