In a novel bit of policy logic, the European Union (EU) is considering abandoning certain environmental protections in its ongoing efforts to promote heavily-subsidized favored energy industries, i.e., wind, solar and “green” hydrogen. The Financial Times quotes a draft proposal currently being considered by EU policymakers as stating “Lengthy and complex administrative procedures are a key barrier for investments in renewables and their related infrastructure.” Thus, we see the EU considering abandoning requirements to protect the environment in its’ ostensible efforts to protect the environment.
Yes, these administrative procedures can be lengthy and complex – that is beyond question. But, as those in the oil and gas industry have been lectured by proponents of “green” energy sources for decades, those procedures are also necessary to ensure impacts to the environment by energy-related projects will be minimized.
Admitting that the plans could “result in the occasional killing or disturbance of birds and other protected species,” the EU proposal at one point advocates suspending the requirement for these favored industries to perform environmental impact studies prior to receiving the permits needed to proceed with the project. To be clear, requirements for such studies exist to ensure things like the protection of endangered and protected species, the avoidance of disturbing animal breeding grounds and migration patterns, the protection of key viewsheds and watersheds and streams and lakes and an array of additional priorities that the backers of green energy sources have always held out as the highest priorities.
But now, with Europe in the midst of a very real energy crisis, suddenly these priorities don’t seem quite so important. Make no mistake about it, the issue of renewable energy projects killing birds is a very real one. The wind industry is a prolific killer of avian populations, and environmental impact studies play a key role in ensuring towers are sited in ways designed to minimize those impacts. It is fair to note that power lines also rank high among the list of killers of birds, and the proliferation of wind and solar power also necessitates a proliferation of transmission lines to carry the power they generate to market.
In the United States in April, one wind company, NextEra Energy, entered into a plea agreement with the federal government for three violations of the migratory bird act by its subsidiary, ESI. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had charged the company with negligent violations at several of its wind facilities that resulted in the killing of at least 150 golden and bald eagles. These eagles are protected under the Eagles Act, which prohibits prohibits killing or wounding these birds without a permit from the USFWS.
“The Justice Department will enforce the nation’s wildlife laws to promote Congress’s purposes, including ensuring sustainable populations of bald and golden eagles, and to promote fair competition for companies that comply,” said assistant U.S. attorney general Todd Kim said. “For more than a decade, ESI has violated those laws, taking eagles without obtaining or even seeking the necessary permit. We are pleased to see ESI now commit to seeking such permits and ultimately ceasing such violations.”
As the result of the plea agreement, NextEra was placed on 5 years’ probation and paid a total of about $8 million in fines and restitution. This is the consequence of violating the very sorts of environmental protection requirements that officials in the EU now propose to suspend in their zeal to meet their climate goals.
But there is more. It seems that, in addition to suspending environmental protection measures to help their favored industries, some EU officials also believe that even more subsidies are needed for them, specifically for “green” hydrogen. The Financial Times quotes Frans Timmermans, who heads up the EU’s Green Deal, as saying “It’s clear that we need to make sure that hydrogen is as competitive as possible.” Timmermans’ comment came as he endorsed subsidies for “green” hydrogen similar to those for wind and solar.
All of this activity comes as EU member nations struggle to devise means of replacing the oil, natural gas and coal they currently import from Russia. A proposal to suspend key environmental protection standards was perhaps the last thing anyone might have expected to see from the EU, but then, extraordinary times often require extraordinary measures. These are definitely extraordinary times, but whether the extraordinary measures currently under consideration will ultimately help in any real way remains to be seen.