Washington Birds and bats have a powerful advocate in the new Congress, and he is making the wind energy industry nervous.
Rep. Nick Rahall, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is pushing legislation that would more strictly regulate wind energy to protect birds, bats and other wildlife killed when they fly into the giant turbines.
Wind energy advocates say the bill could significantly cripple the burgeoning industry and they brand the measure as "anti-wind."
A release from the American Wind Energy Association last month said Rahall's plan could "essentially outlaw" the generation of electricity from new wind power plants in the United States.
Political debate over wind projects has intensified as the industry has seen major growth in recent years. According to the association, wind power is growing 25 percent to 30 percent annually.
Congress has encouraged this renewable energy as oil prices have skyrocketed, creating incentives for the industry and promoting its benefits. But some lawmakers are concerned about the effects on wildlife.
Rahall's proposal, included in a larger energy bill, would direct the Fish and Wildlife Service to publish standards for siting, construction and monitoring of wind projects so that they do not harm wildlife. Violators could go to prison.
After opposition from some members of his committee, Rahall has said he will revisit the legislation. The wind provisions are "not locked in stone," he said.
Still, Rahall, D-W.Va., believes more regulation would be a good idea.
"I suspect that wind projects are on a regular basis in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Endangered Species Act, yet no enforcement action is being taken," he said at a recent hearing on the issue.
Frank Maisano, a spokesman for wind developers in the Mid-Atlantic region, says the industry has frequent discussions with government regulators and environmental groups.
Rahall "is throwing out the entire haystack because there's a needle in there somewhere," he said. "There are plenty of checks on the system that are making us develop in a smart way."