Newt Gingrich released the following letter sent to the Honorable Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, requesting an investigation into a case in North Dakota where the Department of Justice potentially behaved in an abusive and ideological fashion against oil companies.
The letter is below. The American Bird Conservancy release is below that.
February 22, 2012
Honorable Lamar Smith, Chairman
House Committee on the Judiciary
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20510
Re: US v. Brigham Oil and Gas et al.
Dear Chairman Smith:
The United States District Court for North Dakota recently dismissed a case brought by the Department of Justice against three oil and gas companies for alleged violations of the Migratory Bird Act, originally implemented in 1918. The case, US v. Brigham Oil and Gas et al., originated last year when Timothy Purdon, the U.S. Attorney for the District of North Dakota, charged the companies with “taking” several migratory birds found dead on property near their reserve pits. The criminal charges carried fines and, potentially, prison terms.
Continental Resources was changed with “taking” a single Say’s Phoebe, a small bird the size of a sparrow. Brigham Oil & Gas, L.P. was charged with taking two Mallard Ducks. Finally, Newfield Production Company was charged with taking two Mallard ducks, one Red-Necked Duck, and one Northern Pintail duck.
None of these bird species is endangered, and many commercial activities result in vastly more accidental bird deaths on a regular basis. As the deciding judge noted in his decision to dismiss the charges, wind turbines kill “roughly 39,000 birds annually.” Thousands of birds are also struck each year by commercial airlines. Yet this Justice Department has never prosecuted any of these industries under the 1918 law.
The government’s case was a clear abuse of the justice system, and amounted to harassment of oil companies for motives unrelated to migratory birds. It is deeply disturbing that the Justice Department would abuse its authority in such a manner. Many questions remain to be answered about the decisions to selectively prosecute these particular organizations for a small number of incidental bird deaths.
I ask that you use your authority as Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary to subpoena decision documents from U.S. Attorney Purdon’s office to determine why he decided to prosecute the case and explore whether he should be removed from office for deliberate abuse of power.
I further suggest that you investigate the involvement of officials at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. You might ask why the Justice Department decided to prosecute a tiny number of bird deaths near oil pits but ignored the thousands of bird deaths caused by wind turbines.
The American people deserve to know whether their Department of Justice, which is supposed to be defending the people, is deliberately abusing its authority to harass particular companies. I hope you will use your position to help answer these important questions of justice.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives
Enclosure: U.S. District Court’s order granting defendants’ motions to dismiss
Contact: Robert Johns, 202-234-7181 ext.210, firstname.lastname@example.org
American Bird Conservancy Response to Speaker Gingrich’s Statement on Energy Industry Killing of Migratory Birds
(Washington, D.C., February 23, 2012) On September 11, 2011, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the leading bird conservation organization in the United States, issued a press release entitled: “Oil Companies Prosecuted for Avian Deaths but Wind Companies Kill Birds With Impunity.” On February 22, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary referencing this same issue. ABC has taken numerous press calls on this matter and would like to re-iterate its position on the issue of enforcement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).
“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one of our country’s foremost laws for the protection of wild birds, has been widely enforced for decades in cases generally similar to those involving the North Dakota oil and gas companies referenced in Speaker Gingrich’s February 22 letter. American Bird Conservancy believes that Judge Hovland’s interpretation of the law in this latest case was overly narrow and inconsistent with prior precedents. We feel that prosecution of oil companies for the foreseeable and preventable deaths of birds protected under the MBTA is warranted and appropriate especially since all the companies involved had been cited for similar violations in the past. However, ABC does agree with Speaker Gingrich that prosecutions may be warranted for similar violations of the act by wind power developers, who, in stark contrast to the oil and gas industry,, have been given a virtual pass for the deaths of migratory birds at their facilities for over 30 years.
In 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that about 440,000 birds per year (not the 39,000 referenced in Mr. Gingrich’s letter) are being killed by wind turbines in the United States. For example, since the early 1980s, the wind turbines at Altamont Pass are estimated to have killed 2,000 or more Golden Eagles — one of our most iconic birds. And yet not a single wind company has been prosecuted for MBTA violations.
The MBTA provides much-needed protections for the many species that breed in and migrate through the United States, including the hundreds of species of songbirds welcomed into the backyards of millions of Americans every year. These birds deserve the protection the MBTA provides, not only for their inherent beauty but also for the billions of dollars they generate for the U.S. economy every year – from the sale of bird seed, bird-related tourism, to their service to our nation’s farmers as pollinators and insect control. The MBTA should be enforced and that enforcement should be equitable for all energy producers,” said Darin Schroeder,Vice-President for Conservation Advocacy for ABC.
ABC supports wind energy when it is developed according to bird-smart principles. Bird-smart wind power employs careful siting considerations, operational and construction mitigation, bird monitoring, and compensation to reduce and redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss. These are basic measures that the federal government should include in mandatory wind standards. To view ABC’s full policy, visit www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/collisions/wind_policy.html.
In response to the issue of migratory bird deaths at wind developments, ABC has advocated for the federal government to implement mandatory standards for the wind industry, and has petitioned the federal government to implement a solution in the form of project permits authorized under the MBTA. A permitting system would make the wind industry compatible with today’s wildlife conservation needs. It would allow some take to continue, but would also impose conditions that would limit bird deaths and habitat loss, and compensate for any unavoidable bird deaths through new funding for conservation efforts. It would also provide the wind industry with the regulatory certainty that it has requested.