OUTRAGE: Government Bias is for the Birds

Feb 7, 2013

A flock of birds flies in front of Vestas Wind Systems A/S turbines standing next to an old windmill at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Wind Power Plant in Rio Vista, California. Photographer: Ken James/Bloomberg.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of the oldest wildlife protection laws, but despite its longstanding status, the application of the law seems to have its enforcers confused, to put it politely. Where the federal government has aggressively pursued fines for oil and gas companies that have inadvertently killed migratory birds, it has routinely looked the other way for other industries guilty of the same crimes.

Wind turbines kill about 440,000 birds a year, including endangered birds like bald and golden eagles. But the Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken no legal action for the deaths of these birds.

In sharp contrast, North Dakota-based Continental Resources was hauled into court with six other oil and gas companies for killing 28 migratory birds. A federal judge exercised common sense and threw out the complaint. A Denver-based oil and gas company wasn’t as lucky. It paid a $22,500 fine and was ordered to pay $7,500 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the deaths of a dozen migratory birds in Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska a few years ago. The fines were in addition to a $300,000 remediation plan the company is implementing to prevent future bird deaths.

You don’t have to be a math wizard to know there’s something off about those numbers. The inconsistent application of the law has drawn the ire of Senators David Vitter and Lamar Alexander, who sent a recent letter to DOJ calling foul—or fowl, as it were.

In a statement, Sen. Vitter said, “It appears the Justice Department is hand-picking which migratory bird mortality cases to pursue with an obvious preference of going after oil and gas producers … We obviously don't want to see any indiscriminate killing of birds from any sort of energy production, yet the Justice Department's ridiculous inconsistencies begs questioning and clarity."

A mix of energy sources, including wind power, will secure America’s future. But a government that selectively executes the law based on a political agenda is for the birds. 

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