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Windfarms in USA face lawsuit
over massive killing of birds
Center for Biological Diversity
San Fransisco Bay Area, USA
Filed 16 Jan 04
The Center for Biological Diversity ("CBD")
filed a lawsuit today against Florida energy producer FPL Group,
Inc. (NYSE symbol: FPL) and Danish wind power company NEG Micon
A/S for their part in the illegal ongoing killing of tens of thousands
of protected birds by wind turbines at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource
Area ("APWRA") in the San Francisco Bay Area of California.
Through their subsidiaries and associated entities, FPL Group and
NEG Micon own or operate roughly half of the approximately 5,400
wind turbines at the APWRA. Each year, wind turbines at the APWRA
kill up to 60 or more golden eagles and hundreds of other hawks,
owls, and other protected raptors. These bird kills have continued
for 20 years in flagrant violation of the Bald Eagle and Golden
Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and several
California Fish and Game Code provisions.
The lawsuit alleges that these violations and
bird kills are unlawful and unfair business practices under the
California Business and Professions Code.
"Altamont Pass wind turbines are causing
extremely high levels of bird mortality along a major raptor migration
route and are likely depleting eagle, hawk, and owl populations
not only locally but throughout the western U. S.," said Jeff
Miller, spokesperson for CBD. "We absolutely support wind power,
but it is past time for the primary turbine owners, FPL Energy and
NEG Micon, to address this problem."
"Altamont Pass has become a death zone for
eagles and other magnificent and imperiled birds of prey. Recent
studies have proposed numerous recommendations for mitigating the
devastating effect of Altamont Pass wind turbines on birds, yet
the industry is blindly charging ahead replacing existing turbines
with new and much larger turbines without any requirement of effective
preventative measures or remediation for ongoing bird kills,"
said Richard Wiebe, attorney for the plaintiffs.
The APWRA was established in 1982 on 160 square
kilometers of private cattle ranches in eastern Alameda and Contra
Costa Counties. Due in part to the local abundance of raptor populations
in the region, wind turbines at APWRA cause more bird deaths than
any wind facility in the world, a result of poor planning that allowed
wind turbines to be built along a major raptor migration corridor
and in the heart of the highest concentration of golden eagles in
North America. Wind turbines at Altamont Pass kill over a thousand
birds each year, including up to 60 or more golden eagles, 300 red-tailed
hawks, 270 burrowing owls, and additional hundreds of other raptors
including kestrels, falcons, vultures, and other owl species. In
20 years of operation, the wind power industry has yet to implement
any effective measures to reduce the killing of protected raptors
or come up with meaningful mitigations to protect bird populations
affected by the wind farms. In recent months, the County of Alameda
approved repowering and renewed permits for the majority of the
wind turbines at APWRA without conducting any public environmental
review or requiring any meaningful mitigation measures to reduce
or compensate for bird deaths. CBD and Californians for Renewable
Energy filed a formal appeal of the permit renewals with Alameda
County in November 2003.
The extraordinary numbers of raptor deaths continue
unabated, due in part to the complete regulatory failure by federal,
state, and local officials to enforce wildlife protection laws.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Attorney's Office,
California Department of Fish and Game, and Alameda and Contra Costa
Counties bear equal responsibility for the ongoing bird atrocity
at Altamont for their failure to impose any meaningful mitigation
requirements or protective measures on the Altamont Pass wind power
industry," stated Miller.
To add insult to injury, the Altamont Pass wind
power industry has been receiving massive tax credits as well as
government cash grants funded by surcharges imposed on California's
electricity consumers as part of the state's flawed deregulation
plan, all of which serve to subsidize the killing of birds. "The
wind power industry receives tens of millions of dollars in revenue
from California's consumers, as well as enormous tax credits and
government subsidies, based on the perception that it provides 'green'
energy, yet continues to kill thousands of protected birds annually,"
said Miller. "The Altamont companies routinely kill rare birds
that are the natural heritage of all Californians, and take taxpayer
subsidies home to Florida and Denmark." According to wind industry
reports, the Altamont Pass fiasco has tainted public perception
of wind energy and hampered wind power development, as concerns
about bird impacts has delayed or discontinued other wind facilities.
The magnitude of bird kills at APWRA has been
known since at least 1988, when the first of many studies of raptor
mortality was published. To date, the industry has not implemented
effective mitigation measures to reduce bird kills, protect and
maintain existing bird populations, or to compensate for killing
large numbers of birds from imperiled populations, despite numerous
studies by the California Energy Commission, the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory, and others. "The birds have literally been
studied to death, yet the Altamont Pass turbine owners have failed
to take action to
reduce the risk to birds of prey," said Miller.
In fact some efforts at APWRA, such as a small mammal poisoning
program, have actually increased the risk to raptors while also
threatening other endangered species inhabiting Altamont Pass such
as the San Joaquin kit fox and California red-legged frog. Recent
research at APWRA determined that bird mortality has not lessened
over time, that the industry's minimal mitigation measures have
been ineffective, and that the actual number of bird deaths is likely
8 to 16 times the industry-reported number of bird kills.
The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court
in San Francisco, is brought under California's Unfair Competition
Law (California Business and Professions Code section 17200), which
prohibits businesses from violating other laws, in this case federal
and state wildlife protection laws, in thecourse of their business
activities. The lawsuit also alleges that FPL has violated California's
false advertising laws and the federal Lanham Act by making untrue
or misleading statements in publicly asserting that it complies
with all federal and state environmental laws.
The issue at Altamont is
not wind power versus birds, but rather whether the
wind power industry is willing to take simple steps to reduce bird
Raptor experts have suggested
numerous measures to reduce bird deaths, including
retiring particularly lethal turbines, relocating turbines out of
canyons, moving isolated turbines into clusters, increasing the
visibility of turbines to birds, retrofitting power poles to prevent
bird electrocutions, discontinuing the rodent poisoning program,
and managing grazing to encourage rodent prey away from turbines.
Raptor experts have also suggested mitigation through raptor habitat
preservation to maintain the stability of the bird populations that
are being depleted.
Concerns about the potential
for wind turbines at Altamont Pass to kill endangered condors recently
scuttled plans by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce
condors into the Diablo Range east of Morgan Hill and Gilroy. The
turbines may also be severely impacting local populations of the
western burrowing owl, a declining species for which the CBD and
bird conservation groups are requesting protection under the California
Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit
environmental organization dedicated to the protection of native
species and their habitats. The Center works to protect and restore
natural ecosystems and imperiled species through science, education,
policy, and environmental law.
For more information about the impacts of wind
turbines on raptors and the Altamont Pass issue visit
Center for Biological Diversity
San Francisco Bay Area Office
370 Grand Ave., Suite 5
Oakland, CA 94610