Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Competing Interests of Wind Turbines and Wildlife

Wind turbines are an important method of providing power and generating electricity. It is often thought that this is a one of the more eco-friendly ways to provide power. However, some studies show that wind turbines can greatly affect wildlife such as birds. When balancing these competing interests, are wind turbines really eco-friendly?

According to John Laumer’s article, “Common Eco-Myth: Wind Turbines Kill Birds,” vehicles in the U.S. kill millions of birds each year, and between 100 million to 1 billion birds collide with windows. Compare that number to the 2001 National Wind Coordinating Committee study, which revealed that turbines kill 2.19 bird deaths per turbine per year. These figures would appear to show that wind turbines are far less harmful than both cars and windows to the avian population. But other research argues otherwise.

The article “Energy in America: Dead Birds Unintended Consequence of Wind Power Development” by William La Jeunesses suggests that eagles, hawks, and owls often fall prey to wind turbines. He explains that California’s largest wind farms kill more than 80 eagles per year, and this number will increase steadily as the state increases its reliance on wild power. The Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area, another California wind farm, is a state-approved wind farm, and it kills 4,700 birds annually, including 1,300 raptors, among them 70 golden eagles. These animals are not only majestic, but important to the natural environment of the United States, and balancing these competing interests, even in one of the most eco-forward states, is incredibly difficult. Many complain that as wind farms become larger and more prevalent, it is becoming more and more difficult for these birds to avoid them. On the other hand, the more prevalent these wind farms are the less reliant California is on other sources of power.

The article “Renewable Energy’s Environmental Paradox,” by Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, explains that a new development, the SunZia transmission line that would link sun and wind power from central New Mexico with cities in Arizona, would be a great environmental accomplishment from the perspective of generating solar and wind power for a large area. However, the site that was chosen crosses grasslands, skirts two national wildlife refuges and crosses the Rio Grande, both of these areas have precarious eco-systems and are areas rich in wildlife. The building of this line would specifically affect the Sandhill crane’s winter home. This was poor planning on the part of the builders and planners of this project, and because of its location, it will likely have a greater negative environmental impact then it would have had it been located elsewhere.

Wind energy is one of the strongest alternatives currently available to counteract our reliance on oil. However, the more it is used, the more likely it is to have a larger impact. Wind turbines can be an effective way to decrease our dependence on oil, but if it comes at the cost of wild life, then it may not be worth the expense. More research will have to be done to evaluate whether there are more effective ways of preserving the avian population, and protecting them from their interactions with wind turbines. It is also essential that when these sites are chosen, there is careful evaluation of the location of the site in relation to animal habitats, specifically avian habitats.

-Sloane Tait, Legal Intern

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

EPA to Issue New Rules Regarding Mercury Pollution

The EPA Has Proposed New Rules for Mercury and Toxics Emissions

In March of 2011, the EPA proposed a new set of mercury and air toxic
standards. The proposed standards by the EPA would reduce the
emissions of toxic air pollutants from new and existing coal- and
oil-fired electric utility steam generating units (EGUs), an important
development for Jacksonville, FL. A special section of the proposed
standards called the "Toxics Rule" aims to reduce emissions of various
heavy metals, including mercury, arsenic, chromium, and nickel. The
proposed standards will set numerical emission limits for these toxics
at both existing and new coal-fired EGUs. These toxic pollutants are
believed to be linked to cancer, heart disease, lung disease and
premature death.

Additionally, the new rules will limit emissions of organic air
toxics, including dioxin, by establishing work practices for existing
and new coal and oil-fired power plants. One example is by requiring
an annual performance test program for each EGU. The annual
performance test program will “include inspection, adjustment, and/or
maintenance and repairs to ensure optimal combustion.”

The Benefits of the Proposed Standards

The EPA anticipates that the new standards will prevent 91% of mercury
from entering the air, which will hopefully help reduce the risk of
air pollutants damaging the brains of children, pollutants which are
thought to result in loss of IQ and a diminished ability to learn.
The EPA anticipates that the standards will also protect Americans
from cancer and other health risks that they may have acquired from
exposure to these metals. And of course, the proposed standards are
also expected to protect thousands of lakes, streams, rivers, and
wetlands from mercury and acid rain pollution.

Perhaps unexpectedly, employment rates are also anticipated to benefit
from these new pro-environmental standards. The EPA has predicted
that the new standards will provide employment for tens of thousands
of Americans to build, install, and operate the equipment that will be
used to reduce emissions of mercury, acid gases, and other toxic air
pollutants, a win-win situation for sure.

The Opposition to the Proposed Standards

Some utilities have already implemented the technology that would be
required to meet these proposed standards, but other utilities like
American Electric Power (AEP) have not and they are lobbying Congress
to delay finalizing the proposed rules. Utility companies’ lobbyists
argue that cutting emissions as the proposed standards require will
cause them an economic hardship. And Congressman Ed Whitfield, a
representative from Kentucky, a coal-producing state, said that House
Republicans will introduce legislation in August to postpone the
proposed standards. Whitfield has been on record as saying, "We don't
really have expectations that we can repeal all of this, but if we can
delay the final rule, delay the compliance period and address whether
or not technology is really available, then I think we've accomplished
a lot.” The Public Trust will keep an eye on this proposed

When Will we See these New Standards?

Back in June, 2011, due to requests by Congress and in order to
encourage more public comments, the EPA extended the time for the
public to give input by 30 days from its prior deadline of July 5,
2011. Thus the EPA will be accepting comments on the proposed standard
until August 4, 2011. The final standards are scheduled to be
issued in November 2011. This November deadline may be subject to
change if there are continued lobbying efforts and the House
Republicans are able to get legislation passed that will delay the
standards. However, as of now the proposed standards should be
finalized and issued in November 2011. Stay tuned to see who dares to
stand in the way of healthier children, adults, and environment.

-Andrew Miller, Executive Director