December 6, 2013
Interior Department Releases Revised Rule to Ensure Long-term Monitoring and Protection of Eagles While Facilitating Renewable Energy Development
Jessica Kershaw (DOI) 202-208-6416 Chris Tollefson (FWS) 703-358-2222
Additional Changes to 2009 Eagle Permitting Rule to be Explored through Public Process
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of the Interior today announced changes to regulations enabling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to better monitor and address the long-term impacts of renewable energy projects and other activities on federally-protected eagles. In addition to these immediate changes, the Service will continue its comprehensive review of all eagle permitting regulations to determine if other modifications are necessary to increase their efficiency and effectiveness.
“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations.”
In 2009, the Service began a permitting program under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act applicable to developers of renewable energy projects and other activities that may “take” (injure, kill or otherwise disturb) bald and golden eagles. The Eagle Act allows the Service to authorize the programmatic take of eagles, which is take associated with, but not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity and does not have a long-term impact on the population.
These permits have been for a maximum of five years – a period that does not reflect the actual operating parameters of most renewable energy projects or other similar long term project operations. The revised rule, a result of extensive stakeholder engagement and public comment, extends the maximum permit tenure to 30 years, subject to a recurring five-year review process throughout the permit life.
Only applicants who commit to adaptive management measures to ensure the preservation of eagles will be considered for permits with terms longer than five years. Any such increased measures, which would be implemented if monitoring shows that initial permit conditions do not provide sufficient protection, will be negotiated with the permittee and specified in the terms and conditions of the permit.
All permits will be closely monitored to ensure that allowable take numbers are not exceeded and that conservation measures are in place and effective over the life of the permit. Steps taken today will increase transparency and accountability by making annual reports and five-year compilations of eagle fatalities available to the public.
The revised regulations also increase the fees charged for processing programmatic permit applications to reflect the true cost to the Service of developing adaptive conservation measures and monitoring the effectiveness of the terms and conditions of the permits. Permits also will now be transferable to new owners of projects, provided that any successor is qualified and committed to carrying out the conditions of the permit. For more information, click here.
The revisions announced today are in addition to a larger review of the 2009 Eagle Permitting Rule that the Service began in 2012. Since the regulations began to be implemented, stakeholders and the public have identified a number of issues that may be improved by regulatory revisions. For this reason, the Service solicited public comments about the permit program concerning a number of specific issues, including:
· How the Eagle Act’s language regarding preservation of eagles should be interpreted and applied;
· The level of impacts that trigger compensatory mitigation;
· Issuance criteria for programmatic permits; and
· Possible mechanisms for streamlining permits.
The Service will solicit additional public input on the 2009 permit regulations at a series of regional workshops that will take place in early 2014, along with an opportunity to submit written comments. The Service anticipates publishing a proposed rule and accompanying NEPA documents in fall of 2014, with a final rule and NEPA documents in fall of 2015.
The final rule is available here.