Goliath Slays David? Cheer for Goliath!

Front-page of the Metro section is not where readers typical turn to a tall tale suitable for the fiction section, something with an “H” for Horror.

In With Close Contacts, Md. Wind Project Gets Boost, Post readers discover that a well-connected industrialist (Goliath) has run roughshod over concerned environmentalists (the David) through a legislative end run to gut environmental protections for the construction of windmills that will “kill millions” of birds.

A compelling story of a lobbyist-connected Goliath running roughshod over that poor citizen activist David?  Absolutely.

Fact?  Well … not necessarily.

When his plan for clean energy ran smack into a rare habitat on a rocky Appalachian ridge, Annapolis businessman Wayne L. Rogers turned to people he knew could help: his contacts in the Maryland General Assembly.

State law and the environmental protections it afforded all but scuttled his proposal last year for 24 windmills atop Backbone Mountain at the state’s western edge. So Rogers waged a successful campaign to have the law changed — and environmental review gutted — for wind-energy projects such as his.

The utter challenge for those who are concerned about the environment: clean energy vs destroyed ecosystems. This is a serious angst.

“Environmental review gutted” due to a “businessman” who used “contacts in the … Assembly” after “environmental protections … scuttled” the previous plan.  Okay, the alarm bells are ringing. Ringing LOUDLY.  

Rogers’s business interests effectively decided the debate among environmentalists over what takes precedence: developing wind power or protecting nature.

We are now at second alarm.  “Rogers, a well-connected Maryland Democrat”, brought in by the new Democratic Governor as an advisor, has been able to use political connections to sabotage protection of nature.

Regulators still are required to consider a proposed wind farm’s safety and reliability. But they can no longer deny turbines on the grounds that they damage the environment.

Okay, we are now at THREE ALARM status. Empty the fire stations, we are in disaster mode here.  Industrial activities with zero regulatory ability to examine environmental impact?

“What they really did was an end run around the entire approval process,” said Bob DeGroot, an activist fighting wind projects in Western Maryland. “Because of the potential to kill millions of birds from global warming emissions, we’re going to kill millions of birds” with wind turbines.

Kill millions of birds. Four Alarm fire! Huh … ??? Millions of birds?  What is this guy talking about?  What is up with this article?

In fact, this is an old canard — inaccurate in the main — about killing birds. Poorly sited wind turbines can be a bird killer. But, this is too often an exaggerated (as per “millions of birds” above) argument.  Jerome a Paris (latest wind diary (with list of earlier diaries) has written directly to this here inWind power: birds, landscapes and availability (I)). That is a reasonable place to start (with many links).

How about, as well, Green Energy Ohio:

According to Leslie Evans Ogden, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) estimates that at least 4 million to 5 million birds are killed annually in communication tower collisions in the United States” Add this to the estimated 98 million birds killed annually by collisions with glass windows, especially those of tall office buildings, and it becomes clear that tall structures pose a very real threat to bird populations.

On the other hand, a comprehensive review of communication tower kill literature published between 1995 and March 2000, commissioned by the U.S. FWS (which includes a section on wind turbine collisions), revealed that less than 100 avian fatalities involving wind turbines in the U.S. have been reported in that time period (excepting the installation at Altamont Pass).  The highly publicized bird kills at Altamont Pass in California are the only significant (large number) kills involving wind turbines reported at any installation to date.

See also the American Wind Energy Association discussion (yes — lobbyist fact sheet)

Only a few studies have examined the frequency of bird collisions for significant numbers of wind turbines — one in Denmark and two in California. These indicate that a bird will collide with a given wind machine no more than approximately once every 8 to 15 years. Higher
levels of mortality have been found by some studies of smaller numbers of turbines in coastal locations with large concentrations of waterfowl, and it seems appropriate to use greater caution in siting wind projects in such areas or in known areas of high migration.

Got it?  Wind turbines can kill birds. Poorly sited ones (Altamont Pass as poster child) can kill too many.  But, relative to other risks, where do 20 birds per year (1995-2000 period) fall in our consideration?

Okay, our doubt is starting.  Take a few alarms away.

But, what about the gutting of environmental regulation? That is serious. Isn’t it?

Well, let me quote from Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network:

In 25 years as a journalist and environmental advocate I can’t recall any story as misleading, unfair, and downright inaccurate as Lisa Rein’s piece about wind farms in Maryland …

Most irresponsible is Rein’s repeated insistence that a new law in Maryland “eliminates environmental review for wind farms.” How could she get this issue so profoundly wrong? The bill simply brings Maryland in line with surrounding states, permitting the Public Service Commission to regulate wind farms for safety and reliability, but leaving environmental regulations and enforcement to the appropriate state and federal agencies. All wind farms in Maryland, for example, must continue to meet stringent federal protection regulations for wetlands, endangered species, and all other manner of wildlife. Rein was either ignorant of this fact or withheld it from her readers, both inexcusable.

Whoa horsey. Stop us in our tracks.

We still have a multiple alarm situation here, but it is about another misleading Washington Post article about wind power.  

Sadly, Rein has chosen to make this a David vs Goliath story, seemingly not allowing facts to get in the way of a compelling story (should we say ‘fantasy’?).  Now, she clearly relied on Bob DeGroot, who is working hard to fight all wind farms in Appalachia. I sympathize (even support) his underlying objective.  As head of MAGIC Alliance Maryland Alliance for Greenway Improvement and Conservation), he seeks to protect biodiversity and wilderness in Appalachia.  But, DeGroot is using fiction in his fight. And, in this case, that fiction is hindering advancement of renewable power that, in the long term, will be critical for that very biodiversity he cares so deeply about.  But, this is not about DeGroot, but about yet another case of poor Washington Post reporting on wind power in the region.

Why should we care?  

Because there are a range of wind projects being considered in DelMarVa (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) area.  

Perhaps more importantly, because The Washington Post is the local paper for the vast majority of Congressional staff, lobbyists, and federal employees.  Misinformed and misleading articles in the WashPost don’t rest there, they influence governance via the minds their misinformation reaches.

In this case, fed their (false) David vs Goalith tale, Post readers fear wind turbine blades slicing birds over fears of coal-pollution invisibly poisoning them today and into the future.

Accurate reporting informs the populace. Accurate reporting enables reality-based policy making.  Accurate reporting is a journalistic ideal.  Accurate reporting is, evidently, not a Washington Post priority.


  • The Washington Times had a similiar David vs Goliath line (also featuring De Groot)  in a few paragraphs about new Maryland laws.

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