Eagle deaths at wind energy farms in Wyoming has led to the first-ever fine from the federal government for environmental laws protecting birds --- a $1 sum for 14 eagles killed.
The fines were leveled against Duke Energy Corp., which pleaded guilty to killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds at two wind farms. The case was the first one prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
"In this plea agreement, Duke Energy Renewables acknowledges that it constructed these wind projects in a manner it knew beforehand would likely result in avian deaths," Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said in a statement Friday.
In the past, critics had accused the Obama administration of ignoring eagle deaths and allowing wind energy firms to get away with bird deaths. It has been estimated that 600,000 birds are killed at wind farms in the United States every year. This total includes 80,000 birds of prey, many of them protected by federal law.
The lawsuit against Duke Energy Corp. alleged that a number of eagle deaths took place between 2009 and 2013. After the fine was announced, the company released a statement regretting the deaths.
"We deeply regret the impacts of golden eagles at two of our wind facilities," said Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables Inc. in a statement. "Our goal is to provide the benefits of wind energy in the most environmentally responsible way possible."
The case underlies a growing concern about the environmental impact of wind energy. Though proponents claim it is a green form of energy, critics say the eagle deaths prove otherwise.
"No form of energy generation, or human activity for that matter, is completely free of impacts and wind energy is no exception," said the American Wind Energy Association in a statement.
The association added that global warming is responsible for more eagle deaths than wind energy.