Cut fingers, cancer, bats and birds
Georgia residents recently learned that a rare bat has stalled state highway improvements. The May 2012 sighting of an endangered Indiana brown bat in a northern Georgia tree has triggered federal regulations requiring that state road projects not "harm, kill or harass" bats.
Even the possibility of disturbing bats or their habitats would violate the act, the feds say. Therefore, $460 million in Georgia road projects have been delayed for up to eighteen months, so that "appropriate studies" can be conducted. The studies will cost $80,000 to $120,000 per project, bringing the total for all 104 road project analyses to $8-12 million, with delays adding millions more.
Bats are vital to our ecology, agriculture and health. A single colony of 150 big brown bats can consume up to 1.3 million flying insect pests per year, Dr. Justin Boyles and other scientists point out, preventing crop damage and eradicating countless mosquitoes. If Indiana bats are expanding their range from Tennessee into Georgia, that could be good news.
"White nose syndrome" is impacting populations of hibernating bats in caves all over the Eastern USA. The infectious disease is probably fungal in origin, these scientists say, and the loss of North America's bats to WNS could cost farmers $4-53 billion per year - and let mosquitoes proliferate.
At first blush, then, the delay-and-study decision by the US and Georgia Departments of Transportation (DOT) and US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect these voracious furry flyers makes sense. (The FWS enforces the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and similar laws.)
However, the Georgia bat study action is akin to obsessing about a cut finger, while ignoring cancer. The schizophrenic decision underscores how environmental concerns, DOT actions and federal threats to impose penalties or withhold highway funds too often seem to reflect ideologies, agendas and politics, rather than science or actual risks of harming a species.
It's true that Peach State highway projects could conceivably affect bat colonies or daytime rest periods for these nocturnal creatures, to some small degree. But the road work will reduce accidents and crash-related deaths - and delays will likely result in more injuries and fatalities.
Meanwhile, other human activities are decimating bat populations all over America. But environmental groups remain silent, and state and federal wildlife "guardians" do little to stop the carnage. How is that possible?
The exempted activities involve heavily subsidized wind turbines that generate expensive, intermittent electricity and require "backup" hydrocarbon-fueled power plants for some 80 percent of their rated or "nameplate" capacity.
A US Geological Survey report investigated the causes and consequences of bat fatalities around the world. Other analyses have addressed the violent effects that wind turbines have on bats, which are vulnerable because turbines are especially busy at night, when bats are everywhere but electricity demand is at its lowest. Bats are struck by blades traveling 100-200 mph at their tips or felled by "barotrauma," sudden air pressure changes that explode their lungs, as explained in a 2008 Scientific American article "On a wing and low air: The surprising way wind turbines kill bats."
Supposedly "eco-friendly" wind turbines in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands kill tens of thousands of bats annually. The Fowler Ridge and Meadow Lake facilities in northwestern Indiana already have 475 gigantic turbines on 75,000 acres; an additional 150 wind turbines are planned; and all are in the middle of prime Indiana bat habitat.
Even worse, long after the slaughter began, the USFWS is evaluating whether to grant Fowler Ridge a 22-year "incidental take" permit, so that the turbines can continue decimating bats - and the operators can continue being exempted from laws and penalties that apply to everyone else.
Of course, bats aren't the only victims. Numerous rare, vital and endangered bird species are also at risk from wind turbines - including whooping cranes, hawks, falcons, and bald and golden eagles.
To minimize public outrage over the eco-slaughter, Fish and Wildlife has changed its census methods for "whoopers" (to make it harder to calculate how many cranes have "gone missing" along their turbine-dotted Alberta-to-Texas migratory corridor); allows wind facility operators to use search methods that ensure that most dead and injured birds (and bats) will never be found; initiated a process to issue 30-year "incidental take" permits for killing bald and golden eagles; and refused to prosecute wind facility operators for annihilating birds and bats.
The proposed New Era Wind Farm in Minnesota will likely kill 8-14 bald eagles annually. It is yet another example of serious environmental impacts overlooked in the quest to "go green" and meet state "renewable" energy mandates - as though this wildlife destruction is "sustainable" or "acceptable."
Projects like New Era or Shepherds Flat in Oregon also mean a person could be fined or jailed for possessing a feather from a bald eagle decapitated by a wind turbine - but the turbine operator would get off scot free.
A 2012 Spanish Ornithological Society study and 1993 studies in Germany and Sweden found that a typical wind turbine kills 333-1,000 birds and bats annually in Spain, up to 309 birds per year in Germany, and as many as 895 birds and bats in Sweden. World Council for Nature chairman Mark Duchamp estimates that turbines kill twice as many bats as birds.
That means the more than 40,000 turbines operating in the United States, often in or near important habitats, could easily be killing 13 million to 39 million birds and bats every year!
And yet, most environmentalist groups say nothing, and the Fish and Wildlife Service does nothing.
However, Georgia taxpayers must pay millions for bat studies - enriching researchers and reducing taxpayer wealth - to ensure that road projects do not disturb the flying mammals. Meanwhile, the state's drivers and passengers must wait years for safety and other improvements to their highways.
Ironically, Indiana bats that are to be studied and protected in Georgia could get chopped in half en route by "Cuisinarts of the air" that Uncle Sam considers so holy the turbines must be safeguarded against endangered species laws, regardless of environmental costs.
Too many other health, environmental and economic impacts are routinely ignored by developers and regulators alike, where wind turbines (and biofuels) are concerned. That cannot continue.
As summer approaches, Americans should also consider what life will be like when windmills cause bat populations to crater. Freed of their natural predators, mosquitoes will thrive, and they have a much more unquenchable thirst for human blood than do bats of folklore and Dracula tales.
It's high time that people's safety - and truly devastating impacts on important bird and bat species - stopped taking a back seat to political agendas, crony corporatism and folklore environmentalism. It's no longer acceptable to paraphrase Joseph Stalin's obscene axiom, and say: A single bird or bat death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. James Rust is a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute.