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HOUSTON -- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told thousands of mostly oil and natural gas executives at an energy conference here Tuesday that wind turbines kill as many as 750,000 birds a year, repeating a criticism made by other Trump administration officials.

The bottom line: Zinke is exaggerating the figure beyond virtually all published estimates. But more importantly, turbines are a drop in the bucket when it comes to the human-related causes of bird deaths, context Zinke didn't provide.

Expand chart
Adapted from Loss, et al., 2015, "Direct mortality of Birds from Anthropogenic Causes", Johnson, et al., 2016, "Avian fatalities at wind energy facilities in North America: A comparison of recent approaches"; Note: The wind turbine value is an average of three estimates from Johnson's paper; Chart: Axios Visuals

Gritty details: Wind turbines are nowhere near the top of the list of human-related causes, according to all data, including from Zinke’s own agency. Conclusive data on exactly how many deaths wind turbines cause depends a lot on the type of turbine, methodology used and timeline. The most recent data available is from 2014, for example.

  • “The amount of installed wind energy has increased quite a bit in the last five years since those papers were published, so the actual mortality would be expected to scale up somewhat as well,” said Scott Loss, a professor at Oklahoma State University who tracks these issues. “Regardless of the estimate, wind turbines rank much lower than many other human-caused threats in terms of total birds killed.”

For the record: An Interior Department spokeswoman said a recent United States Geological Survey published in peer-reviewed scientific journals estimated the number could be as high as 689,000 bird deaths a year caused by wind turbines, not including Alaska and Hawaii. Including all 50 states and taking into account the growth of the industry as well as increased blade size, “the number could very reasonably be about 750,000,” a spokeswoman said. She did not provide an actual copy of that report.

Go deeper

The front-runners for Biden's Supreme Court pick

Judge Kentaji Brown Jackson (left) and Justice Leondra Kruger (right) Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images and Lonnie Tague, US Department of Justice

Two highly accomplished Black female judges — Ketanji Brown Jackson, a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; and Leondra Kruger, a justice on the California Supreme Court — are seen as the early front-runners to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The big picture: Jackson is a powerful federal judge with a record that progressives feel they can trust. Kruger was a highly regarded litigator and has carved out a reputation for working well with conservative judges.

Fed: Rate hikes are near

The Federal Reserve's headquarters building. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Federal Reserve is on track to raise its main target interest rate in mid-March, as Chair Jerome Powell pledged to be "humble and nimble" in adapting policy to a fast-changing economy.

Why it matters: Fed leaders are looking to choke off inflation by raising interest rates in the near future, but keeping its options open for how fast and far the effort will go.

How long it’s taken to confirm Supreme Court justices

Expand chart
Data: Axios research, U.S. Supreme Court, Supreme Court Historical Society; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

It takes a U.S. president an average of 70 days from the date a Supreme Court seat is vacated to nominate a replacement, according to data from the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Why it matters: With news outlets reporting liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer's plans to retire, Democrats will be looking to confirm President Biden's nominee with enough time to refocus the national political debate ahead of the midterms.