In a novel policy logic, the European Union (EU) is considering abandoning certain environmental protections in its ongoing efforts to promote heavily subsidized preferred energy industries, ie wind, solar and ‘green’ hydrogen. That financial times quotes a draft proposal currently under consideration by EU politicians as saying: “Long and complex administrative procedures are a major obstacle to investment in renewable energy and related infrastructure.” This is how we see the EU considering compromising its supposed environmental efforts to waive requirements for the protection of the environment.
Yes, these administrative procedures can be lengthy and complex – there is no question about that. However, as the oil and gas industry has been lectured by proponents of “green” energy sources for decades, these practices are also necessary to ensure that the environmental impact of energy-related projects is minimized.
The EU proposal acknowledges that the plans “could result in the occasional killing or disturbance of birds and other protected species” and at one point advocates suspending the obligation for these favored industries to carry out environmental impact studies before obtaining the necessary permits to proceed with the project. To be clear, there are requirements for such studies to ensure things like the protection of endangered and protected species, the avoidance of disruptive animal breeding grounds and migration patterns, the protection of important visual and watershed areas and streams and lakes, and a number of additional priorities for the green advocates Energy sources always have the highest priority.
But now that Europe is in the midst of a very real energy crisis, those priorities suddenly don’t seem so important. Make no mistake, the problem of renewable energy projects killing birds is very real. The wind industry is a prolific killer of bird populations and environmental impact studies play a key role in ensuring towers are sited to minimize this impact. It’s fair to note that power lines are also high on the bird killer list, and the proliferation of wind and solar power also requires a proliferation of transmission lines to get the electricity they produce to market.
In the United States, a wind company, NextEra Energy, reached an agreement with the federal government in April over three violations of the migratory bird law by its subsidiary ESI. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had charged the company with negligent violations at several of its wind farms that have killed at least 150 golden and bald eagles. These eagles are protected under the Eagles Act, which prohibits killing or wounding these birds without permission from the USFWS.
“The Department of Justice will enforce the nation’s wildlife laws to further the goals of Congress, including ensuring sustainable populations of bald and golden eagles, and to promote fair competition for companies that comply,” said Deputy U.S. Secretary Attorney General Todd Kim. “For more than a decade, ESI has been violating these laws by kidnapping eagles without obtaining or even applying for the necessary permit. We are pleased that ESI is now committed to seeking such permits and ultimately stopping such violations.”
As a result of the plea agreement, NextEra was placed on a 5-year probationary period and paid a total of approximately $8 million in fines and damages. This comes as a result of flouting exactly the kind of environmental protection requirements that officials in the EU now want to suspend in order to meet their climate goals.
But there is more. It seems that along with suspending environmental protection measures to support their favorite industries, some EU officials also believe that even more subsidies are needed for them, particularly for ‘green’ hydrogen. That financial times quotes Frans Timmermans, who is leading the EU’s Green Deal, as saying: “It is clear that we need to ensure that hydrogen is as competitive as possible.” advocated for wind and sun.
All of this activity comes as EU member states struggle to find means to replace the oil, natural gas and coal they currently import from Russia. A proposal to suspend key environmental standards might be the last thing one would have expected from the EU, but extraordinary times often call for extraordinary action. These are definitely extraordinary times, but it remains to be seen whether the extraordinary measures currently being considered will really help in the end.