Judge slaps utilty for electrocuting birds

Posted July 13th, 2009 by kcorliss. Comment (0).

This is a tough one. I don’t know any particulars in this case, just what I read in this short piece from the AP out of Cheyenne, Wyo. And I confess I don’t know what the law is. But briefly, it appears that a company–PacifiCorp–must pay more than $10 million dollars for electrocuting birds on its powerlines in Wyoming. In addition, they were ordered to upgrade utility poles to make them less attractive to birds.

PacifiCorp pleaded guilty to 34 violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Shickich in Casper ordered the utility to pay a $510,000 fine and $900,000 in restitution.

Shickich also ordered Portland, Ore.-based PacifiCorp to spend at least $9.1 million to retrofit utility poles to make them less dangerous to birds, especially large raptors.

The utility has acknowledged killing 232 eagles since January 2007. Most of the deaths occurred in open expanses where utility poles provided the highest perches for raptors to watch for prey.

A friend of mine works for a local utility and is well aware of the focus put on them from people regarding bird electrocutions.

I have a problem with this. Many of these power lines have been in remote locations for years and years. And it’s very likely these electocutions have been occuring for just as long. But hey, didn’t we want rural power back then in a big way? Just ask the folks who crafted the rural electricity legislation decades ago (Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act in 1935). I would have to believe there was little or no discussion on bird risks. The aim was to pour government money into rural power. Something sorely needed as, at the time, over 90 percent of rural dwellers lived without power.

To now ask these companies to spend millions of dollars to change thousands of miles of infrastructure is rather brash. Perhaps some compromise is in order. Maybe some "stimulus" dollars could go toward the upgrade. Maybe a government rebate incentive could be established where the utilities could get money back for upgrading to more bird-friendly systems. Sort of like the "cash-for-clunker" bill being used to get gas-hungry cars off the road and stimulate the buying of automobiles.

I’m all for doing the right thing with regard to raptors and other birds. And I like it when I see utility lines with anti-bird hardware on them. But to punish the very people who brought life-changing electricity to rural America is not fair. Especially in an ex post facto fashion. 

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