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Ryan Zinke Blames Wind Turbines for Contributing to Global Warming

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Gage Skidmore

At the CERAWeek energy industry conference in Houston this week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he's "pro-energy across the board" but made it clear that he's in favor of oil and gas over other types of domestic energy production.

According to Bloomberg, Zinke praised the Trump administration's push for fossil fuels, from expanding offshore oil drilling to slashing regulations. He also advocated for a partnership with oil and gas companies.


"Interior should not be in the business of being an adversary. We should be in the business of being a partner," the former Montana Congressman said in front of representatives from energy companies and oil-producing countries.

Zinke admitted that "certainly oil and gas and coal have a consequence on carbon," but he then slammed wind turbines for their carbon footprint and for killing birds—a notorious charge from his windmill-hating boss in the White House.

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

Zinke's remark is peculiar for two reasons. First, as TIME pointed out:

"Spread out over the life cycle of a typical turbine, scientists estimate that the typical wind plant generates between .02 and .04 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. Even at the high end, that's less than 3 percent of the emissions from coal-generated electricity and less than 7 percent of the emissions from natural gas-generated electricity."

Secondly, yes, birds are killed by turbines, but "Zinke is exaggerating the figure beyond virtually all published estimates," Axios noted, adding "turbines are a drop in the bucket when it comes to the human-related causes of bird deaths."

Here's a graph from Zinke's own agency for measure. Note how oil pits kill far many more birds than turbines.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Even the National Audubon Society issued a response to Zinke's exaggerated bird-death figure, pointing out that global warming is far more harmful to birds.

"Wind turbines kill an estimated 140,000 to 328,000 birds each year, but the biggest threat to birds is climate change," said Garry George, Audubon's director of renewable energy. "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."

The Audubon favors properly-sited and operated wind and solar power, as renewable energy sources that help reduce the threats posed to birds and people by climate change.

During the same CERAWeek talk, Zinke ranted against solar facilities built on public lands for taking up hunting and recreational space, Bloomberg reported.

However, the interior secretary sure doesn't seem to object when oil and gas interests want to take the lands.

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