Debunk: Secretary Zinke Thinks Wind Turbines Are Just as Bad as Fossil Fuels

Even his own agency disagrees.

10 MAR 2018

US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may have said he is "pro-energy across the board", but that would only be true if the board somehow excluded all forms of renewable energy.

At an energy industry conference in Texas this week, Zinke lauded the Trump administration's recent efforts to expand offshore drilling and roll back environmental regulations.


"Interior should not be in the business of being an adversary. We should be in the business of being a partner," he said to a room full of representatives from energy companies and countries with massive oil industries.

And while he did admit that "oil and gas and coal have a consequence on carbon", it seems like he takes greater issue with wind turbines.

All fuels, he said, have consequences.

"We probably chop us as many as 750,000 birds a year with wind, and the carbon footprint on wind is significant," Zinke said at the conference.

Probably? In reality, the fact-checking website Axios reports that Zinke is exaggerating the figure "beyond virtually all published estimates."

Even though wind turbines do have a carbon footprint, over the course of their lives, their carbon emissions are significantly less when compared to fossil fuels, according to the World Nuclear Association.

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And while it's true wind turbines do kill birds, do you want to know what kills even more? Cats, buildings, auto collisions, power line collisions communication towers and power line electrocutions.

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Not to mention fossil-fuelled power plants, which killed 14.5 million birds in 2006 - about 15 times as many deaths as wind turbines.

Even Zinke's own agency has gathered similar data. If he had bothered to look up the facts, he would have found that while wind turbines cause on average 328,000 deaths each year, oil pits cause 750,000 on average.


"The amount of installed wind energy has increased quite a bit in the last five years since those papers were published, so the actual mortality would be expected to scale up somewhat as well," said Scott Loss, a professor at Oklahoma State University who tracks these issues.

"Regardless of the estimate, wind turbines rank much lower than many other human-caused threats in terms of total birds killed."

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More than any of these human-caused killers though, the greatest threat that birds currently face is climate change.

"More than half of the bird species in North America could lose at least half of their current ranges by 2080 due to rising temperatures," said Garry George, Audubon's director of renewable energy.

Without federal support for renewable energy like wind turbines, it's hard to see how Zinke will protect precious bird species from the dangerous effects of global warming.