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House panel subpoenas Obama administration over wind farm eagle deaths

wind_farm_photo.jpg

A wind farm in Colorado is shown here. (AP Photo)

House Republicans are seeking to compel the Obama administration to turn over uncensored, internal documents related to its enforcement of environmental laws at wind farms where eagles and other protected birds have been killed.

The House Natural Resources Committee issued the subpoena Tuesday as part of a 10-month investigation into the enforcement policies and practices of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Justice Department, a news release said.

Only one wind energy company has been prosecuted for killing eagles and other birds in violation of federal law. Duke Energy pleaded guilty in November to killing eagles and other birds at two Wyoming wind farms and will pay $1 million. 

Yet federal scientists said last year that wind energy facilities have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years, but the figure could be much higher.

An Associated Press investigation exposed how the Obama administration was failing to enforce the law for wind power, even as it used the same law against oil companies and power companies for drowning and electrocuting birds. 

“There are serious concerns that the Obama Administration is implementing these laws in an arbitrary fashion," said the committee's chairman, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. "The administration has repeatedly chosen to only prosecute select violations."

The committee said it is seeking copies of emails and other internal documents that were previously made available in redacted form, as well as documents about specific enforcement cases, internal policies, and regulations the committee had previously requested.

In December, the Obama administration announced it would allow companies to seek authorization to kill and harm bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years without penalty in an effort to balance some of the environmental trade-offs of green energy.

The Interior Department rule provides legal protection for the lifespan of wind farms and other projects if companies obtain permits and make efforts to avoid killing protected birds.

Companies must take additional measures if they kill or injure more eagles than they had estimated they would, or if new information suggests that eagle populations are being affected.

But conservation groups, such as the National Audubon Society, vowed to challenge the rule, arguing it sanctions the killing of bald and golden eagles. 

“Instead of balancing the need for conservation and renewable energy, Interior wrote the wind industry a blank check,” Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold said at the time. “It’s outrageous that the government is sanctioning the killing of America’s symbol."

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet's wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds of up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

According to federal biologists, wind farms in 10 states have killed at least 85 eagles since 1997, with most deaths occurring between 2008 and 2012, as the industry was greatly expanding. Most deaths — 79 — were golden eagles that struck wind turbines. One of the eagles counted in the study was electrocuted by a power line. 

Wind farms in two states, California and Wyoming, were responsible for 58 deaths, followed by facilities in Oregon, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Texas, Maryland and Iowa.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.