Ryan Zinke Worries Wind Turbines Kill Birds. His Agency Just Made It Easier.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has again highlighted the number of birds that the spinning blades of wind turbines kill each year to deflect attention away from the Trump administration’s fossil fuel-centric energy agenda.
“Every energy source has its consequences,” Zinke said at a Senate energy committee hearing on Tuesday, after Sen.
Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) asked why the administration is looking to cut funding for renewable energy projects.
“Wind chops up birds.” But it was Zinke’s department that in December slashed protections for migratory bird species, ruling that accidentally killing birds — be it with a windmill, power line or oil rig — no longer violates federal law.
The Trump administration’s interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects energy companies and other parties from prosecution for these unintentional, albeit not always unpredictable, deaths.
“Interpreting the MBTA to apply to incidental or accidental actions hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive actions, threatening up to six months in jail and a $15,000 penalty for each and every bird injured or killed,” Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s principal deputy solicitor and a former Koch brothers adviser, wrote in the 41-page opinion issued Dec.
The irony of any concern that Zinke expressed for feathered creatures on Tuesday was not lost on critics.
“You can’t be against renewable energy, wind and solar, if you are for protecting birds,” said David O’Neill, chief conservation officer at the Audubon Society.
“And you can’t be for protecting birds and be willing to effectively gut the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.” While wind energy is a “fairly minor contributor” to bird mortality, O’Neill explained, climate change poses a massive threat.
In its 2014 climate report, the Audubon Society found that more than half of all North American bird species could lose more than 50 percent of their current range because of climate change by 2080.
David Hayes, the Interior deputy secretary under President Barack Obama, tweeted that Zinke’s statements on Tuesday were “so hypocritical.”