BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – A wind energy company has been sentenced to probation and ordered to pay more than $8 million in fines and restitution after at least 150 eagles have been killed in the past decade at its wind farms in eight states, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
ESI Energy, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Migratory Birds Treaty Act during a court appearance in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He has been accused of killing eagles at three of his wind farms in Wyoming and New Mexico.
In addition to those deaths, golden and bald eagles have been killed at wind farms affiliated with ESI and NextEra since 2012 in eight states, prosecutors said: Wyoming, California, New Mexico, North Dakota, Colorado, Michigan, Arizona and Illinois. Birds are killed when they fly into the blades of wind turbines. Some ESI turbines killed multiple eagles, prosecutors said.
It is illegal to kill or injure eagles under federal law.
The bald eagle – the national symbol of the United States – was removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2007, after a dramatic resumption of its widespread decimation due to harmful pesticides and d other problems. Golden eagles have not fared as well, with populations believed to be stable but under pressure including wind farms, collisions with vehicles, illegal shooting and lead ammunition poisoning.
The case comes amid a push by President Joe Biden for more renewable energy from wind, solar and other sources to help reduce emissions linked to climate change. It also follows a renewed commitment by federal wildlife officials under Biden to enforce protections for eagles and other birds under the Migratory Birds Treaty Act, after criminal prosecutions were halted under the law. former President Donald Trump.
Historically, companies have been able to avoid lawsuits if they take steps to avoid bird deaths and seek permits for those that do occur. ESI has not applied for such a permit, authorities said.
The company was warned before building the wind farms in New Mexico and Wyoming that it would kill birds, but it proceeded anyway and sometimes ignored advice from federal wildlife officials on how to minimize fatalities , according to court documents.
“For more than a decade, ESI violated (wildlife) laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even applying for the necessary permit,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Environment and Resources Division. natural resources from the Department of Justice in a press release.
ESI has agreed, as part of a plea deal, to spend up to $27 million during its five-year probationary period on measures to prevent future eagle deaths. This includes shutting down turbines at times when eagles are more likely to be present.
Despite these measures, wildlife officials predict that some eagles could still die. When that happens, the company will pay $29,623 per dead eagle, under the agreement.
NextEra President Rebecca Kujawa said bird collisions with wind turbines are unavoidable accidents that should not be criminalized. She said the company is committed to reducing harm to wildlife from its projects.
“We disagree with the government’s underlying enforcement activity,” Kujawa said in a statement. “Building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any aircraft carries a possibility that accidental collisions of eagles and other birds may occur.”