Bird Battle: Conservationists Sue US Government to Stop Wind Power Bird Slaughter

The silence from traditional conservation groups against the wind industry’s rampant bird slaughter is deafening.

Once upon a time, hirsute, hair-shirted and sandal wearing tree huggers would die in a ditch to prevent harm to any of God’s other creatures. That was, of course, before industrial wind power hove into view. Groups like the Sierra Club and the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are all ‘fire and brimstone’ wherever ‘big business’ threatens our avian fauna. Except, that is, if the ‘big business’ in question is heavily subsidised, and chaotically intermittent wind power. It’s all about “saving the planet”, you see…

So, it’s a rare and beautiful thing when a couple of conservation groups get on the front foot.

In order to prevent the inevitable slaughter of millions of birds across the Great Lakes, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) have launched proceedings against the US government’s Department of Energy and its Army Corps of Engineers.

Bird Conservation Groups File Lawsuit In Federal Court Over Icebreaker Wind Project
American Bird Conservancy
Press Release
11 December 2019

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) today filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Case 1:19-cv-03694). The suit focuses on the agencies’ failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Clean Water Act, respectively, during their evaluation of environmental impacts and alternatives associated with the Icebreaker Wind project. Icebreaker would place a precedent-setting wind energy facility in Lake Erie, offshore of Cleveland, Ohio.

Constructing turbines in the proposed project site would pose substantial collision risks to the enormous numbers of birds that use the area throughout the year, including large concentrations of migrating songbirds, as well as Common Loons, globally significant populations of Red-breasted Mergansers, and other waterfowl. Further, construction and increased vessel traffic associated with the project could pollute the waters used by these species. Despite this, the agencies have failed to adequately evaluate environmental impacts and reasonable alternatives that would reduce the project’s impacts.

“We regret that legal action is our only recourse,” said Mike Parr, ABC’s President. “The agencies did not give this project the careful evaluation it requires under applicable environmental laws. In addition, American tax dollars are paying for more than a third of the project cost – but a Norwegian corporation is in partnership with the nonprofit project implementer, LEEDCo. Why are U.S. taxpayer dollars supporting this in the first place? Migratory birds are a common good of the American people,” Parr added. “The government has a duty to protect them more than international business interests.”

If approved, Icebreaker would be the first offshore wind facility in the Great Lakes and only the second in the United States. The site selected by the developer, the Central Basin of Lake Erie, is within a National Audubon Society-designated Global Important Bird Area that draws millions of birds annually. Radar studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have recorded large numbers of migratory birds and bats near Great Lakes shorelines, including Lake Erie’s south shore. Many were flying at altitudes that would be within the rotor-swept area of wind turbines, making these birds susceptible to collision-related deaths, injuries, and disturbances.

The Kirtland’s Warbler is one such species. After more than 50 years on the endangered species list, this species has just been delisted and added to the list of successes under the Endangered Species Act. “Many agencies, NGOs, and other partners have worked for decades to see the Kirtland’s Warbler recover from the brink of extinction,” said Joel Merriman, Director of ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy campaign. “We have no wish to see this undermined by an inadequately vetted energy project.”

Despite serious concerns regarding the risk of wind turbine-caused mortality and other impacts on birds, the Icebreaker proposal has moved forward over the last decade. Among other shortcomings, this precedent-setting project should have been evaluated through a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) to comply with NEPA. USFWS — the agency with statutory jurisdiction and scientific expertise over U.S. bird populations — recommended that an EIS be developed, but was ignored.

“Existing data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shows that this area is important for huge numbers of birds,” said Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director of BSBO. “The inadequate science provided by the applicant understates the risk. This highlights the importance of conducting a more comprehensive assessment of environmental impacts.”

Further, Icebreaker is a demonstration project. Its review and approval will be considered the benchmark for hundreds, possibly thousands, of additional turbines expected to be proposed for the Great Lakes over the coming decades. A robust cumulative impact assessment is needed to evaluate likely impacts of this larger scale of development. This would follow a similar requirement recently set for offshore wind facilities along the Eastern Seaboard.

The complaint seeks to require that the U.S. Department of Energy complete an EIS and comprehensive cumulative impacts assessment, and that both agencies complete a legally adequate alternatives analysis.

“Data published in September showed that North America has already lost around 29 percent of its bird population,” said Parr. “This project is an example of how birds are routinely ignored when business decisions are involved. Since birds are a public good, and taxpayer dollars are involved in benefiting a private company in this case, the agencies should be doing a much better job here.”

American Bird Conservancy and Black Swamp Bird Observatory are being represented by the public interest environmental law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLC.
American Bird Conservancy

7 thoughts on “Bird Battle: Conservationists Sue US Government to Stop Wind Power Bird Slaughter

  1. Hope they have better luck than here in Australia where the protection of birds, bats and indeed any other creature that can be harmed by these monstrosities of ‘modern’ energy production are pushed aside.
    Here the EPA, Governments and Courts have a tendency to ignore the worth of these creatures to ensure the construction of dangerous and costly (both environmentally and financially) turbines wherever the companies want to put them, they turn a blind eye to the lies and misrepresentations provide by industries tame research/reporting ‘experts’ and ignore/brush aside independent truthful opposing reports.
    The immediate and wider Environmental cost is pushed aside just to make these bodies, which should be putting the environment first, feel as if they are doing something to appease the ignorant tunnel visioned loud mouths who are pushing for and supporting these projects.
    Currently I am really and truly fed up with being bombarded by the blab from people who say to listen to the science but only listen to what supports their current desire for media attention.
    The environment is extremely important and should not be handed by media outlets to such media hungry self promoting people, unless they are standing back and funding research to explore the whole truth and not just the current ‘pick’ from a box of tricks form of ‘truth’.
    Science is not something undertaken by actors or entertainers, it’s important and needs to be above pressure from rowdy cry’s of ‘the science is in’, SCIENCE is never ‘IN’ it’s always moving always changing.
    The environment is losing the fight to survive because of such nonsensical behaviour and it belongs to us all and we should fight to save it for ALL creatures including human beings who are also being side-lined and damaged by the promotion of ignorant foolish claptrap pronounced by people who believe they have a right to espouse their personal beliefs to all and sundry and a media that relies on access to these people at other times to fill their columns and show time slots with waffle and fancy, so must keep them onside.
    Currently the number of persons shouting their garbage and offering multiple dollars to fighting funds is incredible – I’d have more respect for them if they just handed the money over incognito, without the hype and media plaudits.
    But back to the article, if this is just an exploratory project without doubt it will morph into a much bigger program as stated. Once a project is approved it spreads like a nasty disease from some other world that cannot be stopped.
    Hopefully the court action will smother it and deprive it of oxygen so it dies never to rise again. Good Luck in your fight.

    1. Well said Jacqueline.

      If science is approached from a preset Climate Change disposition, then these scientists are merely looking for anything that might align with their bias narrative. Science should be approached with an open mind.

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