The Obama administration finalized a rule Friday extending the length of permits that allow energy companies' wind farms to kill eagles without penalty.
The Interior Department rule lengthens the permits for eagle "takings" -- in which bald or golden eagles are accidentally killed -- to 30 years, up from five.
Interior said the change would provide more certainty for renewable energy investors, particularly for wind farms.
“Renewable energy development is vitally important to our nation’s future, but it has to be done in the right way,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said. “The changes in this permitting program will help the renewable energy industry and others develop projects that can operate in the longer term, while ensuring bald and golden eagles continue to thrive for future generations.”
The move comes after Duke Energy settled with the Justice Department in November to the tune of $1 million for claims that two of its Wyoming wind farms had killed eagles.
Environmental groups slammed the rule, saying it could have been better designed.
"This rule could lead to many unnecessary deaths of eagles. And that's a wrong-headed approach. We can, and must, protect wildlife as we promote clean, renewable energy. The Fish and Wildlife Service missed an opportunity to issue a rule that would do just that. This rule sets up a false choice that we intend to fight to reverse," Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke said.
For its part, the American Wind Energy Association trade group contends turbines are responsible for 2 percent of all human-caused eagle deaths.