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Energy & the Law

What is a Bird Worth to a Regulator?

Posted in Energy Policy, Environmental Policy

What is a wild bird worth? Does it matter whether it is a Bald or Golden Eagle, of which here are few, or ducks and pelicans, of which there are enough (as least the ducks) so that hunters may shoot them for dinner.  Does it matter how they meet their demise? Is a bird drowned in oil worth more one fried by a solar panel or chopped up into pieces by a wind turbine?  If one is determined to have no value and the other somewhere between several hundred and several thousand dollars, would you wonder how the value is calculated?  And what about bats - those environmentally friendly creatures without a lot of human admirers?

A 2012 post discussed a fine on CITGO Petroleum for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Ten migratory birds drowned in storage tanks at CITGO’s Corpus Christi refinery. The company was convicted on two felony and three misdemeanor counts.  In 2012 the court determined the fine could be as large as $2,000,900.  In a February 10, 2014 Judgment, the fine actually imposed was $1,045,000. The fine included Clean Air Act violations as well.

On the other end of the federal regulatory continuum, you have three examples of the effect of wind and solar operations on our avian friends.

We are warned of a new rule by the Department of the Interior that, in the words of the Audubon Society, makes possible 30 year permits for wind energy companies to site wind turbines in ways that kill Golden and Bald eagles.

What is reputed to be the world’s largest solar farm, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mohave Desert in California, is said to be causing birds flying through the area to be scorched by the 350,000 gigantic mirrors covering an area of five square miles and which generate temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Environment groups are challenging the project and complaining about its effect on wildlife. For their part, the regulators are conducting a two year study on the plant’s effect on birds.

And a study by Mark Hayes of the University of Colorado in the journal Bioscience estimates that 600,000 to 900,000 bats could be killed every year as a result of flying into wind turbines. The estimate is based on the number of dead bats actually found at 21 locations.  Bioscience is a publication of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Is there a coherent public policy behind this disparate treatment of energy sources? I can’t find one.

Today’s musical theme give us choices: 

If I were a bird or a bat looking for an easy way out, I might be thinking like this:

But if I were a person looking for a party, I’d remember that it’s Mardi Gras.