President Trump has opined several times in recent weeks — and many times over the years — about the dangers that wind farms pose to birds.
“The wind kills all your birds,” Trump told supporters at a Pennsylvania rally in 2016. “All your birds: killed.”
It’s a theme he’s often reprised. “They kill so many birds. You look under those windmills, it’s a killing field, the birds,” he told donors at a New York state gathering this week. “I hate the wind,” he often reportedly says in policy meetings.
As we wrote earlier this week, his particular animus toward wind farms may in fact stem from the fact that the Scottish government in 2012 approved a wind farm off the coast of his golf course in Aberdeenshire; Trump’s efforts to fight it were wildly unsuccessful.
But here’s another interesting thing. Despite his concerns about the bird “killing fields” that windmills create, Trump’s own Department of the Interior in December changed a bird-protection policy that applies to energy companies under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Effectively, the Trump DOI will no longer fine wind farms when they accidentally kill birds.
The policy change came after heavy lobbying. A range of energy companies were held liable under this rule: Migrating birds could be knocked out of the sky by windmills, but also might be incinerated by solar arrays, or die a sludgy death in an oil drilling waste pit. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, hunting, capturing or killing a wide range of migratory birds without a permit is a misdemeanor with serious penalties: It is punishable by up to six months in prison or fines of up to $15,000.
Bloomberg reports that oil companies had been particularly critical of the Obama administration’s policy, alleging that regulators aggressively went after oil companies, but often looked the other way when birds were killed by wind and solar farms. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has often suggested that his department should make a point of “being a partner” to the oil industry, and, like Trump, has complained that “we probably chop us as many as 750,000 birds a year with wind,” adding, inaccurately, that “the carbon footprint on wind is significant.”
The new Trump administration policy now permits “take” — killing or capturing — “that results from an activity, but is not the purpose of that activity.” In other words, energy companies won’t be penalized if they kill birds by accident, only if they kill them on purpose.
It was a policy change that the energy industry celebrated as providing regulatory certainty. Bird conservation groups, on the other hand, are suing. Given his frequent cries to “save our bald eagles” from the “environmental & aesthetic disaster” that is wind power, the president is surely following this litigation closely.