The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have announced rule changes related to eagle take permits. The revised regulations extend the permit tenure, significantly increase fees and allow permits to be transferable to new owners of projects.
As the DOI explains, in 2009, the FWS began a permitting program under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act applicable to developers of renewable energy projects and other activities that may ‘take’ (i.e., injure, kill or otherwise disturb) bald and golden eagles. The act allows the FWS to authorize the programmatic take of eagles, which is take associated with, but not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity and does not have a long-term impact on the population.
However, these permits have been for a maximum of five years – a period that does not reflect the actual operating parameters of most renewable energy projects or other similar long-term project operations, the DOI says. Therefore, the agency has extended the maximum permit tenure to 30 years, subject to a recurring five-year review process throughout the permit life.
According to the DOI, only applicants that commit to adaptive management measures to ensure the preservation of eagles will be considered for permits with terms longer than five years. Any such increased measures, which would be implemented if monitoring shows that initial permit conditions do not provide sufficient protection, will be negotiated with the permittee and specified in the terms and conditions of the permit.
"Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation's future, but it has to be done in the right way," says Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. "The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations."
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has welcomed the new tenure rule. In a statement, the group says the extension will "provide conservation benefits for eagles while granting wind energy companies, and other potential permittees – such as oil and gas exploration and production, mining, military bases, airports, telecommunication tower developers, utility line owners, etc. – a degree of longer-term legal and financial certainty, which is important to the viability of any business."
AWEA notes that it looks forward to working with regulators on any future rule revisions, adding, "[T]he wind industry has taken the most proactive and leading role of any utility-scale energy source to minimize wildlife impacts in general, and specifically for eagles, through constantly improving siting and monitoring techniques."
The revised regulations also increase the fees to be charged for processing programmatic permit applications.
Under the new rules, the price for such permits has jumped from $1,000 to $36,000. However, the DOI says the processing fee for programmatic permits for "low-risk projects," those expected to have negligible effects on eagles, is $8,000. In addition, the FWS will collect permit administration fees totaling $2,600 for each five-year period the permit is in effect.
According to the DOI,Â the fee changes reflect what it has discovered to be the true cost to the FWS of developing adaptive conservation measures and monitoring the effectiveness of the terms and conditions of the permits.
Permits also will now be transferable to new owners of projects, provided that any successor is qualified and committed to carrying out the conditions of the permit, the DOI adds. The fee for the transfer of a programmatic permit is $1,000.
The final rule is available here.