AWEA Submits Comments About ‘Extremely Problematic’ FWS Proposals

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Calling a pair of documents drafted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) ‘extremely problematic,’ the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) says the Draft Land-Based Wind Energy Guidelines and the Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance are ‘unworkable’ and has made detailed recommendations to improve them.

According to AWEA, more than 12,000 individuals also submitted comments echoing the concerns raised by AWEA on both documents.

"Unfortunately, the [FWS] proposals in their current form do not represent a reasonable balance between the important and complementary goals of wildlife conservation and deployment of non-polluting energy,’ says Denise Bode, AWEA's CEO.

AWEA urges a return to the consensus recommendations of the FWS' Wind Turbine Guidelines Federal Advisory Committee (FAC) that were reached in March 2010.

The FAC was created by the Department of the Interior and comprised wildlife conservation organizations, state wildlife agencies and wind industry representatives, among others.

AWEA says the FWS draft guidelines deviate significantly from the consensus FAC recommendations in key areas including the role of the FWS in the review process, the scope and duration of pre- and post-construction studies, and the scope of covered species and covered impacts.

AWEA also raised questions about some of the science on which the FWS is relying and about the negative impact several of the recommendations would have on the ability to build wind energy projects, particularly given that the recommendations would come at a very high cost yet not yield any additional conservation benefit.

The association also submitted recommendations on the Draft Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance. This guidance document builds on the 2009 Eagle Permit rule finalized by the FWS in order to provide "take" permits, giving legal liability protection for projects that commit to efforts to avoid, minimize and mitigate for their impacts.

AWEA urged that the FWS reopen the 2009 permit rule to make the permit more closely mirror those available under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Currently, the eagle permit differs in key ways, including being available for only five years with no guarantee of renewal; under the ESA, the permit is available for the life of the project. Additionally, the FWS can impose additional conditions on a project in the future, whereas the ESA provides "no surprise" assurances, meaning a recipient of a permit will not be asked in the future to commit to additional measures.

AWEA also commented on the draft guidance document and raised concerns and made recommendations on questionable legal interpretations that have resulted in an overly stringent program, questionable science, and the duration and scope of studies, among other issues.

"The [FWS] missed an opportunity to capitalize on the consensus work of states, NGOs and the industry," said John Anderson, AWEA's director of siting policy, in a statement. "AWEA strongly urges [the FWS] to reconsider the draft documents as they currently stand and work closely with stakeholders to achieve a more workable outcome for both wildlife and wind energy."

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