The wind energy company ESI Energy Inc. (ESI) must pay more than $8 million in fines and restitution and serve a five-year probation after pleading guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, according to a statement released by the United States Department of Justice.
In the U.S., ESI is a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Inc., one of the largest providers of renewable energy, per Reuters’ Barbara Goldberg.
The company deliberately elected not to apply for proper permits for "any unavoidable take of eagles" in Wyoming and New Mexico, per the DOJ. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the “killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transport of protected migratory bird species without prior authorization by the Department of Interior U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service” is prohibited.
The company also acknowledged the deaths of at least 150 bald and golden eagles at 50 of its 154 wind energy facilities since 2012. Of those deaths, 136 were attributed to the eagle being struck by a turbine blade.
“Renewable energy is essential in the fight against climate change,” says Mike Parr, president of American Bird Conservancy, in a statement. “At the same time, steps must be taken to minimize harm to birds. What we're seeing in this case is much-needed accountability for avoidable harm to birds by industry, stemming from the company's failure to follow the law.”
During the probation, the company must follow an Eagle Management Plan, which requires up to $27 million for measures to minimize eagle deaths. It will pay $29,623 per additional bald or golden eagle killed or injured. ESI must apply for the appropriate permits at its facilities where the unavoidable take of eagles is documented or predicted.
“For more than a decade, ESI has violated (wildlife) laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit,” says Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in the statement. “We are pleased to see ESI now commit to seeking such permits and ultimately ceasing such violations.”
In the 1900s, bald eagles faced severe population declines in the U.S. because of hunting, habitat loss and the pesticide DDT. But thanks to decades of conservation efforts, the bird has made a spectacular comeback. In 2007, they were removed from the federal list of endangered and threatened species.
But a study published in Science earlier this year found that both eagles face another threat that may decrease their numbers: lead. Researchers found almost half of bald and golden eagles in the U.S. have chronic lead poisoning.
NextEra Energy president Rebecca Kujawa says in a statement that the company did not take any action in disregard to federal law and that the company has a long-standing reputation for protecting the environment.
“We disagree with the government's underlying enforcement activity,” Kujawa says. “Building any structure, driving any vehicle, or flying any airplane carries with it a possibility that accidental eagle and other bird collisions may occur.”