United States

United States

Wildlife kill data under scrutiny

UNITED STATES: Wildlife lobby group American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has filed a lawsuit accusing the government of withholding public information on the number of birds and bats killed by wind farms.

ABC submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for all documents belonging to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) department that relates to proposed and operating wind projects in multiple US states. In addition to bird and bat mortality data, the documents requested include pre-construction studies, all correspondence between FWS and developers or consultants, and any letters or comments submitted to other state agencies.

FWS offices in several states complied with the requests, but the ABC claims that Arizona, California, Florida, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas have not.

ABC wind campaign coordinator Kelly Fuller said: "The public really does have a right to know what's going on with this wildlife. And the public definitely has a right to know what the federal government is saying to the wind developers. There were some projects and some offices where we couldn't get anything," she said. "Or they gave us some things and then never finished - months and months went by."

The lawsuit is drawing renewed attention to voluntary wildlife guidelines issued by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in March. ABC actively lobbied for mandatory guidelines.

John Anderson, director of siting policy for the American Wind Energy Association, which is not keen on mandatory guidelines, said that ABC is an outlier organisation unwilling to work with mainstream environmental groups such as the National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife, which aligned with the wind industry and spent several years formulating the voluntary guidelines. "My sense here is that this is a continuation of ABC's drive to get some sort of mandatory regulatory process in place," Anderson said. "It doesn't seem that ABC wants to be a collaborator and rather just continues to muddy the waters."

Sensitive information

Anderson said that filing the requests is not as simple as it seems. Some documents include proprietary information that developers fear will be misused. For example, a developer could use a competitor's pre-construction wildlife study to convince a utility that its site is a better bet for a power purchase agreement.

"That's the proprietary nature that folks are concerned about - the fact that you can take information out of context and make one site look more appealing than another," Anderson said.

FWS declined to comment on specifics regarding the ABC lawsuit. But, although the agency acknowledges receiving ten separate FOIA requests, it said that ABC is seeking an enormous volume of documents at a time when government agencies are stretched.

"We take our responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act very seriously and are working steadily with appropriate programmes and staff to make sure all appropriate documents are produced as quickly as possible," said Chris Tollefson, FWS chief of communications.

"The agency has tonnes of other issues to address," Anderson said. "And this may just not be something where they can drop everything and get to when they're trying to deal with national issues of significant importance. There's no conspiracy or secrecy here, as best as I can tell."

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