Washington, D.C. -- Charging that a massive wind energy project threatens endangered bats, the Animal Welfare Institute, a national animal protection organization, along with the West Virginia-based Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy and other conservationists, have filed what is believed to be the first federal lawsuit challenging an industrial wind energy project on environmental grounds. The lawsuit, brought under the Endangered Species Act ("ESA") and filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland, contends that a massive wind power facility slated for Greenbrier County, West Virginia, will unlawfully kill and injure Indiana bats - a highly endangered species known to live in caves in close proximity to the project site.
As planned, the Beech Ridge wind project will include 124 wind turbines nearly four hundred feet tall along a twenty-three mile stretch of forested Appalachian mountain ridgelines. In addition to turbine construction, Beech Ridge Energy and its parent companies also plan to install habitat-destroying roads, buildings, and transmission lines that are necessary to operate the facility.
The project is especially concerning because of its impacts when considered in conjunction with White Nose Syndrome ("WNS") - a disease that is ravaging bat species in the eastern United States at an alarming rate. Last week the House Natural Resources Committee convened an oversight hearing seeking a solution before time runs out for the Indiana bat and many other at-risk bat species.
Poorly sited wind power projects in the eastern U.S. have already killed and maimed scores of bats, and leading bat experts predict that, without reforms, hundreds of thousands more will be killed in coming years, imperiling populations already being decimated by WNS and other forms of habitat destruction. According to conservative estimates, the Beech Ridge project alone is expected to kill more than 130,000 bats over a twenty-year period.
Although properly sited wind power projects may help in mitigating global climate change, numerous projects are being built without adequately addressing wildlife and other environmental impacts. According to D.J. Schubert, wildlife biologist at the Animal Welfare Institute, "Wind power may be part of the solution to climate change, but locations such as the Beech Ridge project site are entirely inappropriate for industrial wind facilities. We cannot allow a new ecological crisis to be created in the name of solving an existing one."
"We were hoping to avoid a federal lawsuit," said John Stroud, spokesperson for Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy. "However, Beech Ridge Energy is currently moving forward with construction despite repeated requests to first bring the project into compliance with the Endangered Species Act to ensure that the Indiana bat is afforded the full protections of the law."
The plaintiffs include the Animal Welfare Institute and Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy, and are represented by the Washington, D.C. public interest law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal. All legal inquiries should be directed to William Eubanks. To download the complaint, click here.