American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) today filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Clean Water Act, respectively, during their evaluation of environmental impacts and alternatives associated with the Icebreaker Wind project in Lake Erie, offshore of Cleveland, Ohio.
Constructing turbines in the proposed project site would pose substantial collision risks to the enormous numbers of birds that use the area throughout the year, including large concentrations of migrating songbirds, as well as common loons, globally significant populations of red-breasted mergansers, and other waterfowl, claims ABC and BSBO.
“We regret that legal action is our only recourse,” said Mike Parr, ABC’s President. “The agencies did not give this project the careful evaluation it requires under applicable environmental laws. Migratory birds are a common good of the American people. The government has a duty to protect them more than international business interests.”
If approved, Icebreaker would be the first offshore wind facility in the Great Lakes and only the second in the United States. The site selected by the developer, the Central Basin of Lake Erie, is within a National Audubon Society-designated Global Important Bird Area that draws millions of birds annually. Radar studies conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have recorded large numbers of migratory birds and bats near Great Lakes shorelines, including Lake Erie’s south shore. Many were flying at altitudes that would be within the rotor-swept area of wind turbines, making these birds susceptible to collision-related deaths, injuries, and disturbances.
The Kirtland’s Warbler is one such species. After more than 50 years on the endangered species list, this species has just been delisted and added to the list of successes under the Endangered Species Act. “Many agencies, NGOs, and other partners have worked for decades to see the Kirtland’s Warbler recover from the brink of extinction,” said Joel Merriman, Director of ABC’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy campaign. “We have no wish to see this undermined by an inadequately vetted energy project.”
The project should have been evaluated through a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) to comply with NEPA. USFWS — the agency with statutory jurisdiction and scientific expertise over U.S. bird populations — recommended that an EIS be developed.
“Existing data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shows that this area is important for huge numbers of birds,” said Kimberly Kaufman, Executive Director of BSBO. “The inadequate science provided by the applicant understates the risk. This highlights the importance of conducting a more comprehensive assessment of environmental impacts.”
“We need renewable energy development to combat the effects of climate change, but it needs to be done right,” said Merriman. “We must ensure that we’re not creating new problems in the process by building turbines in high-risk areas for birds. This precedent-setting project needs to take the proper steps to demonstrate that the benefits outweigh the risks.”
The complaint seeks to require that the U.S. Department of Energy complete an EIS and comprehensive cumulative impacts assessment, and that both agencies complete a legally adequate alternatives analysis.
American Bird Conservancy and Black Swamp Bird Observatory are being represented by the public interest environmental law firm Eubanks & Associates, LLC.
News item from ABC, BSBO