After pleading guilty for killing more than 150 birds, the Duke Energy Corporation settled with the federal government for $1 million last week. Even though Duke Energy is the first wind-energy company to be pursued on the grounds of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, two Republican senators raised questions about whether the Obama administration is playing politics over the law’s enforcement.
In May, senators David Vitter of Louisiana and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee sent a letter to the Department of Justice asking for clarification about why it was not charging or prosecuting wind-energy companies for killing federally protected birds. The senators accused the administration of “hand-picking” which companies to pursue for violating the law, noting that wind-energy companies had been given “a free pass” amid reports that windmills had killed several birds.
The DOJ did not reply to the senators’ letter until the day of the settlement, which Vitter found suspicious. “We definitely don’t want to see any sort of energy providers killing federally-protected birds indiscriminately, but we also don’t want to see politically motivated actions by DOJ,” he said in a statement. “The instances of wind energy’s favoritism have been so egregious under this Administration, and DOJ’s settlement and response still don’t explain the Administration’s obvious bias.” Vitter pointed out that several oil and gas producers as well as electric-utility companies had been charged over the year
Duke Energy pleaded guilty to killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds at two of its sites in Wyoming, the state with the most eagle death’s by wind turbine since 2008. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 440,000 birds are killed annually from wind-energy production.