Published: December 7, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) – The wind industry urged Congress on Tuesday to extend a cash grant program for production of renewable energy, claiming tens of thousands of jobs are at stake.

Meanwhile, a bird advocacy group, the American Bird Conservancy, cautioned lawmakers to limit grant recipients to those who take steps to protect wildlife – arguing that such protections are needed to prevent avoidable bird fatalities at windmills.

The flurry of lobbying came as Congress took up a tax package that includes President Barack Obama’s compromise with Republicans on tax cuts.

The American Wind Energy Association wants the package to include renewal of the cash grant program for development in wind, solar and other renewable energy. The program, created by the federal stimulus law, is set to expire at the end of this month.

The wind group said that tens of thousands of Americans could lose their jobs or not get called back from layoffs unless the program is extended. It joined with trade groups representing the solar, geothermal, biomass and hydropower industries in a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday warning of a renewable energy slowdown.

In its own letter to Senate leaders this week, the bird group urged that any extension of the program include language that requires grant recipients to site projects in a way that minimizes harm to birds; employs the best technology to avoid such harm; and compensates for bird impacts, through new habitat, for example. The group also wants recipients to comply with laws like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In a statement in response to the bird group’s letter, Tom Vinson, the wind group’s senior director of federal regulatory affairs, said developers are already required to comply with federal and state regulations when siting projects.

Robert Johns, a spokesman for the bird group, said that the federal government has been reluctant to enforce laws like the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so it falls on citizens groups to ensure that the law is being followed.

“Since the industry wants taxpayer money to fund construction of wind turbines, American Bird Conservancy thinks the burden should be on them to assure compliance with the law and not have citizens dig into their own pockets to take legal action forcing compliance,” Johns said.

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