Equal Protection Under the Law?

Equal protection means that the same law applies to everyone, at least in theory.  But compare these two stories:

1. Exxon fined $600,000 for 85 bird deaths in five states over five years

Exxon Mobil has agreed to pay $600,000 in penalties after approximately 85 migratory birds died of exposure to hydrocarbons at some of its natural gas facilities across the Midwest.

The fine amounts to about $7,000 per dead bird.

The oil company pleaded guilty to causing the deaths of waterfowl, hawks, owls and other protected species, which perished around natural gas well pits or water storage areas in Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas over the last five years....

“We are all responsible for protecting our wildlife, even the largest of corporations,” said David M. Gaouette, the United States attorney in Colorado, in a statement accompanying the Justice Department’s announcement.

We are all responsible for protecting our wildlife... except if we are politically-favored solar companies with strong ties to the Obama White House

2. No fines for solar power plant that may be killing 28,000 birds a year

A common sight in the sky above the world's largest solar thermal power plant is a "streamer," a small plume of smoke that occurs without warning. Closer inspection, however, reveals that the source of the smoke is a bird which has inadvertently strayed into the white-hot heat above the plant's many reflecting mirrors. Because the BrightSource Energy plant near Ivanpah uses supercritical steam rather than photovoltaic energy, the sun's heat is reflected off more than 300,000 mirrors to a single point, which is used to drive a steam turbine. The downside of that, of course, is that it's lethal for any wildlife that strays into the picture -- a problem that was recognized well before the facility opened, but now the government has gotten involved.

Government wildlife inspectors believe that insects are drawn to the highly reflective mirrors, which in turn lures local birds to their doom. BrightSource feels that the issue has been overblown, claiming that only 1,000 living creatures will die in a year, but the Center for Biological Diversity believes the actual figure is closer to 28,000. The US Fish and Wildlife service is pushing for more information and an accurate calculation of the deaths before California grants the company any more permits for solar plants.

You can see from the last line that the Feds don't seem to be even considering a penalty, but are just considering whether they should permit such plants in the future.  If the 28,000 figure is correct, this company should be getting $196 million in fines (the Exxon rate of $7000 per bird)  if there was any such thing as equal protection.  Even the company's admitted figure of 1,000 a year is almost 60 times as high as Exxon was penalized for, despite the fact that Exxon experienced the deaths across hundreds of locations in five states and this is just one single solar plant.

The same alternate standard is being applied to the wind energy industry, as I wrote a while back here.


  1. J_W_W:

    Bbbbbbutt oil companies are EVILLLLL.

    PS - I really do have a soft spot for wind and think its bird deaths number is overblown. However, equal protection is equal protection. If wind gets a pass, natural gas gets a pass too.

  2. mlhouse:

    WIth the Obama Administration, this selective enforcement of the law has really become a problem. Micky Kaus, my favorite liberal blogger, created an example of what the Obama Administration is doing. Imagine if Romney was elected president and did not think that the $5.3 million estate tax exemption was enough. He could not get Congress to change the exemption amounts, so he just ordered the IRS and Department of Justice to not enforce penalties against estates between $5.3 and the much higher number he felt was needed to enhance capital formation and economic growth.

    Would the press and liberals just let that pass?

  3. Earl Wertheimer:

    I am waiting for a Bald or Golden Eagle to be killed by a wind turbine.
    Transporting the dead eagle would be a crime... So I guess they would have to leave them on the ground where they landed.

    From the NY Times: "In this instance, the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act make it a crime to possess, sell, purchase, barter, transport, import or export any bald eagle — alive or dead."

  4. niccolom777:

    There was a very similar case in Alberta a few years ago were some ducks did the same thing and the oil company got dinged for it. At the same time studies have shown that here in Ontario hundreds (thousands??) of birds and bats are getting killed by wind turbines all the time and not one fine..

  5. Canvasback:

    No need to wait: nydailynews.com/news/national/u-s-killing-eagles-aid-wind-power-article-1.1540116

  6. randian:

    The fact that a bird perished near a natural gas well does not imply that the bird died because of exposure to hydrocarbons. I suspect the DoJ simply asserted that was the cause and Exxon paid because fighting it on the merits would have been more expensive.

  7. apostasyusa:

    It was known well before the construction of this facility that it would in fact kill some birds.

  8. jhertzli:

    A future administration might suddenly decide to start enforcing the law, which means that, if you own a solar power plant, your goose is cooked.