Permit shakedown

Governments have all kinds of permits — for construction, business occupancy, special events, parking and other activities. They are issued with a clear dictate: If you don’t get the permit, you can’t lawfully engage in the activity. Period.

San Francisco-based Pattern Energy went through all kinds of rigmarole to build the $225 million Spring Valley Wind Farm on federal land about 300 miles north of Las Vegas. The lengthy approval process made the project, with its 66 huge turbines, the first utility-scale wind farm in the state.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is coming after the company, launching an investigation that could lead to a $200,000 fine, because it didn’t obtain a permit to — get this — accidentally kill protected wildlife.

So-called “take” permits aren’t like other permits, however. They’re optional. Really, they’re more like Get Out of Jail Free cards. If wind farms are willing to undertake the costs and delays of obtaining a five-year “take” permit, the possibility of a federal probe goes away. Scott Flaherty, a regional spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, says a permit “provides the best possible outcomes for the companies and the wildlife.”

What a shakedown. Wind farms around the country kill birds by the thousands every year. It’s totally expected. Pattern Energy predicted that a few hundred birds and bats would be killed by the project every year, and a judge refused to grant environmentalists’ requests to block construction of the turbines.

The federal government had plenty of opportunities to reject this project. It allowed the Spring Valley Wind Farm to be built. But a single Washington fiefdom can still demand tribute after the fact? What a joke. If “take” permits aren’t mandatory for wind-power producers, they shouldn’t exist in the first place.

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