Will the Indiana Bat survive in Ohio, or will BigWind write the bat’s obit?

We have blogged in the past, about how vital bats are to our agriculture. Bats eat an astronomical amount of pests and wind turbines kill them. Researchers have speculated that the agriculture industry save hundreds of $millions because these critters eat so many pests. If we kill more bats, then the farmers need to use more pesticides…bad news for people. Additionally, few are considering the use of crop sprayers. Pilots don’t want to fly near the turbines because it is simply too dangerous. If we continue to ‘plant’ more turbines, at what point will the critters take over and ruin our food supply? At the very least, they will raise the price of our crops, which is terrible news for all of us…particularly our poor…

The survival of the Indiana bat has been in such doubt that it was one of the first animals to be listed as “in danger of extinction” under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966.

Its population has declined as amateur spelunkers have overrun the caves it hibernates in, logging has claimed the trees it roosts in during the summer, and pesticides have exterminated its food supply of insects. Now the tiny mammal is facing another threat from, ironically, something that is supposed to help heal the environment — green energy.

The Indiana bat has been part of a long-running battle against a proposed 100-turbine wind farm in Champaign County, Ohio. A lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Bloomington-based Conservation Law Center sought to block a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would have allowed the Buckeye Wind Project to kill — or “take” in environmental parlance — the protected species.

On Aug. 5, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals offered a mixed ruling in Union Neighbors United, Inc. v. Sally Jewell, in her official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior, et al., 15-5147. ..
Attorneys disagree over the implication of the ruling but acknowledge this case presents another example that the use of renewable energy has consequences. Indiana bats, along with other kinds of bats and birds, fly into the blades of wind turbines, and they lose their habitat when acres are cleared to make way for solar farms….

At the Conservation Law Center, attorneys W. William Weeks, Jeffrey Hyman and Peter Murrey emphasized they support responible development of renewable energy, but “you have to obey the law,” Weeks said, “Just because you’re talking about renewable energy, you don’t get a free pass on the law.”

‘Unlawful conduct’

Hyman Hyman
The Conservation Law Center noticed the Buckeye Wind farm…

The center’s concerns about the permit were echoed in the lawsuit it filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The complaint asserted the federal agency did not analyze how requiring the turbines to turn only in faster winds, or what is called the cut-in speed, would impact the Indiana bats. Hyman described this as “unlawful conduct.”

On behalf of Union Neighbors United, an organization of local residents opposed to the wind farm, the center sued to vacate the taking permit and force the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider higher cut-in speeds.

Indiana bat factsUNU member Julie Johnson is grateful the center took this issue…

“Most people I know don’t want to live in the middle of a wind farm,” Johnson said.

Precedent uncertain

As part of the taking permit process, the Fish and Wildlife Service considered three alternatives for protecting Indiana bats. The most protective measure required the turbines to stop turning from dusk to dawn when the bats would be most active. But this was deemed economically unfeasible. In the end, the agency approved the minimally restricted alternative that allowed cut-in speeds between 5 meters-per-second (11.2 mph) and 6 mps (13.4 mph).

Union Neighbors proposed raising the cut-in speeds to 6.5 mps (14.5 mph). The federal agency dismissed that suggestion, noting while higher cut-in speeds could lower bat mortality, there were an infinite number of combinations of cut-in speeds that could be considered but the alternatives it examined were sufficient.

The D.C. Circuit agreed with Union Neighbors that the service failed to meet its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act Procedures by not considering additional alternatives. It found the agency did not have to consider an “infinite array” of alternatives or even review the 6.5 mps suggestion, but the agency has to analyze a mid-range alternative that would take fewer bats while still enabling the wind farm to go forward.

Both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Justice, which is representing the Department of the Interior, declined to comment.

Weeks said the court’s reversal on the NEPA claim is a wake-up call to federal agencies. The judiciary seems to be worrying that the government is not taking a hard enough look at the environmental consequences of certain projects….