Court says FCC violated government rules on towers and birds

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week said the FCC violated government rules by approving communications towers that threaten migratory birds.

The appeals court sided with conservation groups that brought the claim against the agency. The court ordered the FCC to conduct at least the minimal analysis on the environmental effect of cell, radio, television and other towers built in the Gulf Coast region, as the groups have requested.

“There is no real dispute that towers ‘may’ have significant environmental impact” to meet a certain threshold,” the order said.

The ruling is significant because for the first time the court is directing the FCC to assess the impact of communication towers on birds, according to Stephen Roady, an attorney with Earthjustice, a public interest law firm, which represented the American Bird Conservancy and Forest Conservation Council.

The groups want the FCC to look at the 6000 towers in the Gulf Coast region and at least deal with the ones that pose the biggest problems to birds, said Darin Schroeder, the American Bird Conservancy’s executive director for conservation advocacy.

Dealing with them means, for example, regulating the location, height or designs of cell towers that could endanger birds. The groups say this is a problem that can be mitigated.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that between 4 million and 50 million birds die every year colliding with communications towers as they cross the Gulf of Mexico during the fall and spring seasons. Towers at a certain height have lights that attract the birds, which fly into them, each other or the tower wires.