<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=192888919167017&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

Linkedin Pinterest

Fact check: Will more California eagles die from Gavin Newsom’s new environmental law?


California Republicans contend that one portion of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s last-minute infrastructure package will result in more eagles getting killed by wind turbines.

Last Monday, Newsom signed Senate Bill 147, a measure that will allow the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to issue permits for clean energy and other large projects that could result in the deaths of animals on the state’s fully protected species list.

Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, on July 5 ripped her colleagues over SB 147 during a floor debate.

“Sometimes I just can’t tolerate stupidity, at all, in any level,” Grove said. “I’m calling it stupidity because the bottom line is, I would hate to think that any of my colleagues were doing this on purpose.”

Grove claimed SB 147 would remove golden eagles and southern bald eagles from California’s fully protected endangered species list to allow the permitting.

“I have a zero voting record with all these environmental groups,” Grove said. “But it really does disturb me, the fact that we’re actually going to take all these species listed on this analysis off of the fully protected species list so that a company — to further the green ideology that comes out of this building and the federal government — can install wind farms and allow them to kill the bald or golden eagle, along with all these other species.”

  • Claim: SB 147 removes golden eagles and southern bald eagles from California’s fully endangered species list, which will result in more deaths as developers build more clean energy projects.
  • Rating:Mostly false
  • Details: When it comes to species threatened by extinction, California maintains two separate lists and two laws that govern them — the Fully Protected Species Act and California Endangered Species Act.

They have created headaches for developers and state regulatory agencies, slowing down the construction of some major public works projects, they said.

The Endangered Species Act allowed the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department to permit projects that could harm a protected species. The Fully Protected Species Act prohibited any harm to the 37 species deemed “fully protected,” including golden eagles and southern bald eagles.

Prior to SB 147, if a project could “take,” or kill, a fully protected species, the legislature had to amend the California Endangered Species Act to carve out an exemption — a cumbersome task that can delay construction for years.

Chuck Bonham, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said this has happened about eight to 10 times.

The new legislation is expected to alleviate that burden and allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to issue permits for certain projects that could both affect species considered endangered or fully protected.

The measure applies to certain solar, transportation, water and wind projects. It cannot be used for permitting the Delta Conveyance water tunnel or any ocean desalination projects.

SB 147 will require builders to avoid or minimize any harm or death of species and fully mitigate any environmental damage. The Department of Fish and Wildlife will also report to lawmakers on an annual basis about the measures it requires from developers and the effects of such permits.

“This proposal would allow us to do all those things,” Bonham said during a recent Senate committee meeting. “Which I would argue creates a greater conservation uplift while also creating a permit pathway for critical infrastructure that’s narrowly tailored around important categories.”

Michael Lynes, policy director for Audubon California, agreed with Bonham.

“A statute to protect species that has a permit and is actually enforced and implemented is better than a statute that has a flat prohibition on take but is never enforced,” Lynes said.

He said construction frequently violates existing laws protecting endangered wildlife, and a permit system would allow the Department of Fish and Wildlife to better monitor projects.

Lynes cited the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in Alameda County, a wind farm built in the 1980s where turbines kill 75 to 100 golden eagles every year, according to the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

“The Department of Fish and Wildlife never interceded in any meaningful way to protect golden eagles in the Altamont Pass,” Lynes said. “And when asked, they said it’s because there’s no permit that we can deliver — that the people that are developing land are otherwise in compliance with the law, but that results in the incidental take of these eagles.”

Lynes said Audubon does not want to see eagle deaths being used to push against clean energy projects.

“Our position is we need renewable energy resources, including wind farms and solar farms,” Lynes said. “But we also know that they can be sited and adequately mitigated so that we’re not causing declines in wildlife populations.”

Support local journalism

Your tax-deductible donation to The Columbian’s Community Funded Journalism program will contribute to better local reporting on key issues, including homelessness, housing, transportation and the environment. Reporters will focus on narrative, investigative and data-driven storytelling.

Local journalism needs your help. It’s an essential part of a healthy community and a healthy democracy.

Community Funded Journalism logo