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Editorial: Federal policy for the birds

If you own an oil or gas company and a dozen or so birds get killed by your power lines or become trapped in some spilled crude, you can expect to be prosecuted, pay fines and write a nice check to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

If, however, you own a wind-energy outfit with high-speed turbines that could kill hundreds or thousands of birds, don’t sweat it. The government has your back.

The Obama administration’s Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a new plan that would allow green energy companies to operate under 30-year federal permits while also increasing the number of birds they would be permitted to kill, including bald and golden eagles currently protected under federal law.

Under the plan, wind and other power providers would be allowed to kill or injure up to 4,200 bald eagles each year —nearly four times the current legal limit — without facing any legal consequences. Golden eagles could be killed only if companies take steps such as retrofitting power poles to reduce the risk of electrocution in order to minimize harm to the birds.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe says the proposal will actually “provide a path forward” for protecting eagles while, at the same, boosting the development of a pollution-free energy source that could help President Obama achieve his goal of reducing the country’s “reliance on fossil fuels” such as coal and oil that contribute to global warming.

But as the administration rushes to provide more benefits to the heavily subsidized wind power companies, those who produce the great majority of our energy get no such treatment.

In 2012, the Justice Department brought charges against an Oklahoma oil company and six others in North Dakota for contributing to the death of 28 migratory birds — birds that weren’t even endangered. In 2009, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court and paid more than $600,000 in fines after 85 federally protected birds that came into contact with crude oil and other pollutants in uncovered tanks and wastewater facilities died on its property. Oregon-based electric company PacifiCorp had to pay $1.4 million in fines after killing 232 eagles that were electrocuted by power lines in Wyoming.

More recently, President Obama killed the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline project amid environmental concerns, including fear of harming endangered whooping cranes, among other wildlife.

Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute summed it up neatly this week in the Wall Street Journal, noting the Obama administration is “bending over backward to accommodate an industry that is killing iconic wildlife while at the same time collecting huge subsidies from taxpayers. If there’s a better example of regulatory capture and crony capitalism, I can’t think of one.”

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