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The regulation published Friday was not subjected to a full environmental review because the administration classified it as an administrative change.
"The federal government didn't study the impacts of this rule change even though the (law) requires it," said Kelly Fuller, who formerly headed the wind campaign at the American Bird Conservancy. "Instead, the feds have decided to break the law and use eagles as lab rats."
However, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the new rule will enable it to better monitor the long-term environmental effects of renewable energy projects.
"Our goal is to ensure that the wind industry sites and operates projects in ways that best minimize and avoid impacts to eagles and other wildlife," the agency said in a statement.
Last month, Duke Energy Corp. pleaded guilty to killing eagles and other birds at two wind farms in Wyoming, the first time a wind energy company had been prosecuted under a law protecting migratory birds.
A study by federal biologists in September found that wind farms since 2008 had killed at least 67 bald and golden eagles, a number that the researchers said was likely underestimated. That did not include deaths at Altamont Pass, an area in northern California where wind farms kill an estimated 60 eagles a year.
It's unclear what toll, if any, wind energy companies are having on eagle populations locally or regionally. Gunshots, electrocutions and poisonings almost certainly kill more bald and golden eagles than wind farms. But the toll could grow along with the industry.
A recent assessment of the status of the golden eagle in the western U.S. showed that populations have been decreasing in some areas but rising in others.
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