WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is refusing to turn over documents related to enforcement of environmental laws at wind farms where dozens of eagles and other protected birds have been killed, House Republicans charged Wednesday.
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the Fish and Wildlife Service has engaged in a “deliberate slow rolling of documents and answers” for nearly a year. Hastings is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which has been seeking to compel the wildlife agency turn over internal documents related to its enforcement of laws protecting eagles and other birds.
An Associated Press investigation last year revealed that the administration was not prosecuting wind energy companies for killing eagles and other protected birds.
Only one wind energy company has been prosecuted for killing eagles and other birds in violation of federal law. Duke Energy pleaded guilty in November to killing eagles and other birds at two Wyoming wind farms and will pay $1 million.
The government estimates that at least 85 eagles are killed each year by wind turbines.
The wildlife agency “dragged its feet for six months” before providing a two-page memo written the year before, Hastings said, and many of the documents that have been turned over so far are incomplete or have largely been blacked out.
“This is not compliance. This is deliberate slow rolling of documents and answers, and we’ve had enough,” Hastings said.
Committee members asked the agency’s director, Dan Ashe, at a hearing Wednesday about a new agency rule allowing energy companies to kill or injure eagles without fear of prosecution for up to 30 years.
The rule, announced in December, provides legal protection for the lifespan of wind farms and other projects if energy companies obtain permits and make efforts to avoid killing protected birds. The permits would be reviewed every five years, and companies would have to submit reports of how many eagles they killed. Until now, such reporting has been voluntary, and the Interior Department has refused to release the information.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Wyo., called the 30-year permits “licenses to kill” and suggested that the Obama administration favoured wind power over traditional energy sources such as oil. Ashe disputed that, saying the agency treats the wind industry the same way it deals with all energy producers.
An agency spokeswoman said after the hearing that the 30-year permit applies to any type of energy production that results in the death of a bald or golden eagle.
Ashe called the 30-year permit a technical change, noting that the permits will still be reviewed every five years. The prior rule called for permit renewal after five years.
Ashe, the sole witness at Wednesday’s hearing, said he and his staff have made “super-human efforts” to fulfil the committee’s requests for information but that the volume of documents sought and timeframe for producing them were “completely unreasonable.”
He said a subpoena issued by the committee on March 11 required him to provide thousands of pages of documents within two weeks — a request he said was “physically impossible” to meet. A total of 125 agency employees — including 50 law enforcement agents — spent more than 2,600 work-hours trying to comply with the committee’s request, he said, calling it a counterproductive and wasteful use of their time.
Ashe said committee members would do better to “pick up the phone” and call him. Asked by Lamborn why it took six months to provide the committee a two-page memo, Ashe said that was because the request for the memo was “wrapped in a massive, unreasonable request” for thousands of other documents.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., the panel’s senior Democrat, accused the panel’s Republicans of wasting time and money searching for “yet another conspiracy that doesn’t exist.”
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