January 7, 2010
By Ed Stoddard
DALLAS (Reuters) - Efforts to protect an iconic bird could disrupt oil, natural gas and wind energy development in the U.S. West and add to the Democratic Party's green woes ahead of the 2010 congressional elections.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until Feb. 26 to decide whether or not to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act. This may prove politically charged as it comes in the face of opposition from energy interests and state governments who fear it will hurt economic development.
It could lead to a battle between the Obama administration and groups linked to the Republican Party -- such as oil and gas interests. The issue could hurt Democratic candidates in the region -- including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. The bird's range includes much of the state.
Wyoming has already taken steps to protect the bird in a bid to stave off an Endangered Species listing which Governor Dave Freudenthal has said would be bad for the state's economy because of the industry regulations it would bring.
The large ground bird is totally dependent on sage brush. Parts of Wyoming have been identified as "core" areas crucial to the bird's survival.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Monday issued guidelines to protect the bird which state officials and environmentalists say will effectively preclude wind power development in about 20 percent of the sprawling state. The BLM move bolstered Wyoming's steps to identify key grouse habitat. . .
Analysts say any negative fallout for the wind industry will give Republicans ammunition to argue that the administration will sacrifice green initiatives, such as reducing carbon emissions, for the sake of a bird.
"The idea that wind power is a danger to the grouse is going to be a hard sell politically," said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
"It is the sort of thing that the Bush administration would have ignored and said forget it, whereas the Obama administration takes the science seriously. This will convince many of the fecklessness of the Democratic Party," he said.
Read the full story.
# # #