After nesting hawks slowed work on upgrading transmission lines leading to BrightSource's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generation System last year, an Inland Empire Assembly Member has introduced a bill that could loosen protections on eagles, hawks, and other raptors to make it easier to build new transmission lines for renewable energy. AB 516, introduced by Assembly member Cheryl Brown of Fontana, would push the Legislature to change state wildlife protection laws that currently forbid harassment of raptors.
Brown's bill, written as an "Intent of the Legislature" placeholder proclamation, reads:
It is the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would establish a mechanism for permitting the taking of birds, eggs, and nests, subject to reasonable avoidance, minimization, and mitigation measures to facilitate the construction of electrical transmission infrastructure to help achieve the state's renewable energy goals.
Bills like this one are often worded this vaguely with the intent of making them much more detailed during the committee process.
According to an article by David Danelski in the Riverside Press Enterprise -- who's having a very productive week on the birds and renewables beat -- Brown introduced the bill in February at the request of Southern California Edison, which donated $1,500 to Brown's campaign fund in December.
Danelski quotes a staff member in Assemblywoman Brown's office as saying the intent was to allow utility workers to move bird nests out of the way to facilitate rapid deployment of new transmission for renewable energy projects. But according to Ileene Anderson, biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, moving raptor nests doesn't exactly fly. Anderson told Danelski that she hadn't heard of a single instance in which a raptor continued to tend to a nest after it had been moved.
Anderson also pointed out that the intent of Brown's bill seemed to offer potential conflicts with Federal wildlife protection law as managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Ornithologist James Wiegand, a longtime advocate of greater protection of raptors from renewable energy development, told ReWire that the bill is an unnecessary erosion of wildlife law. "Any work around these nests could be easily delayed until late June after the young have left. This bill reeks with ulterior wind energy motives and should be killed."
The bill may be heard in committee as early as March 21.