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Grouse decision may hurt oil, gas, wind

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KAI RYSSDAL:Let me take this opportunity to introduce you to the greater sage grouse, a chicken-sized bird native to the American West. It is also becoming a significant factor in American energy policy. Environmentalists want it listed as endangered. Ranchers and energy developers don’t.

So, as Sarah Gardner reports now from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, today the Interior Department announced a compromise of sorts.

Sarah Gardner: You might not have heard of the greater sage grouse, but this brown bird, the size of a chicken, is a “keystone species.” That means if the sage grouse is in trouble, so is its habitat. In this case, that means America’s western grasslands. Today, Interior officials declined to list the bird as “endangered,” but declared it a “candidate” species — deserving of protection but “waitlisted,” so to speak.

Brian Rutledge: The practical effect is the bird receives some more protection, but everybody involved receives a clear message that it’s time to do better.

Brian Rutledge at Audubon Wyoming expects the decision will make it somewhat harder for western oil, gas and wind developers to expand operations. Conservationists like Rutledge support wind power but don’t want wind farms sited on pristine lands. Wind advocates worry that if the sage grouse ever does make the endangered list, it will set back President Obama’s green energy goals.

Laurie Jodziewicz is with the American Wind Energy Association.

Laurie Jodziewicz: While we certainly want to be cautious, we do believe that there are measures that can be taken to avoid, minimize and mitigate any impact from wind development.

Like setting wind turbines back from the birds’ mating areas. Conservative western lawmakers characterized today’s compromise as a blow to job creation. Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz has been particularly blunt: “The only good place for a sage grouse to be listed,” Chaffetz said, “is on the menu of a French bistro.”

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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