The Right's Leading Argument Against Wind Power Is For The Birds

In a Washington Times op-ed sensationally titled “Wind-energy tax credits fund bird murder,” Paul Driessen argues that we should not invest in wind power because of its impact on wildlife. But wind power accounts for a "minute fraction" of human-caused bird deaths, and fossil fuel production poses a much larger risk to birds and the environment.

After reciting conservative talking points on the futility of wind power, Driessen accuses legislators who support extending wind tax credits of contributing to the “ultimate extinction” of bird species across the country:

Every vote to extend the production tax credit -- or to approve wind turbines in or near important bird habitats and flyways -- is a vote for the ultimate extinction of majestic and vital avian species in habitats all over the United States. No member of Congress should want that on his conscience.

But according to the National Research Council, wind turbines account for less than 0.003% of bird deaths caused by human activities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service estimates that wind turbines kill 150,000 - 200,000 birds annually. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of birds are killed every year by collisions with buildings, cars, and power lines. And many more are killed by oilfield production pits and coal mining, which has destroyed numerous bird habitats.

A 2009 comparison of the impact of six electricity generation types on wildlife in New England found that wind power poses “no population-level risks to birds.” Factoring in the effects of pollution and climate change, it concluded that “non-renewable electricity generation sources, such as coal and oil, pose higher risks to wildlife than renewable electricity generation sources, such as hydro and wind.”

So where was Driessen's concern for wildlife when he was defending oil subsidies and advocating for more fossil fuel production?

The production tax credit has spurred enormous growth in the wind industry and has enabled wind power to be competitive with natural gas. But despite its success, Congress has repeatedly allowed it to lapse, halting the wind industry's progress in the U.S.

The tax credit is currently in limbo once again. Unless Congress acts, the credit will expire at the end of this year, causing the loss of up to 37,000 jobs, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Several Republicans in Congress support at least a one year extension, but the conservative media have chided them, and applauded Mitt Romney for coming out against it.