Conservationists and tribal leaders are suing the US government for trying to stop the construction of two geothermal plants in the high desert of northern Nevada
Reno, Nev. – Conservationists and tribal leaders are suing the US government for trying to stop the construction of two geothermal plants in the high desert of northern Nevada that they say will destroy one sacred hot springs and a rare toad could be pushed to the brink of extinction.
The lawsuit, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Fallen Paiyut-Shoshon Tribe, says the project will transform an “ancient and unique place of ecological value and spiritual significance” into an industrial site.
It is the latest public land conflict of green energy production against potential damage to wildlife habitat or cultural resources in the largest US gold-producing state, where legal challenges have traditionally targeted things like hard-rock mining.
Environmentalists have rallied nationally around President Joe Biden’s ambitious renewable energy agenda, which includes solar, wind and geothermal production.
Geothermal plants pump water from under the earth to generate steam to make electricity. The deeper they dig, the hotter the water. Power plants produce significantly less greenhouse emissions than plants that burn natural gas or coal.
The lawsuit, filed on December 15, accuses the Bureau of Land Management of illegally granting Ormat Technologies Inc.’s project in Dixie Meadows, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Reno, without necessary environmental analysis.
It also says the agency is violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Bureau spokesman Chris Rose said the agency did not comment on the lawsuit.
A judge has scheduled a hearing in US District Court in Reno for January 4 to consider the groups’ subsequent request to temporarily block preliminary construction work.
Formed by natural springs, Dixie Meadows is an important wetland ecosystem in a desert oasis that is home to the Dixie Valley toad that is not found anywhere else in the world, the lawsuit says.
The Biden administration approved the project last month, even though the center’s petition to list the toad as an endangered species is still pending before the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The center is the same group that earlier this year won the endangered species list for a rare plant at the site of a proposed lithium mine 225 miles (362 km) southeast of Reno. Lithium is a key component of batteries for electric vehicles, a centerpiece of Biden’s energy strategy.
Patrick Donnelly, Nevada State Director of the Center, said of geothermal plants, “We strongly support renewable energy when it’s in the right place, but a project like this that threatens sacred sites and endangered species, Definitely the wrong place.”
Tribal president Cathy Tuney said the ancestors of the Fallen Paiute-Shoshon have been living in the Dixie Valley area for thousands of years and have long recognized the hot springs as “sacred places of healing and reflection.”
“The United States has repeatedly promised to respect and protect indigenous sacred sites, but then the BLM approved a major construction project on top of our most sacred hot springs. It just became more empty words. Sounds like that,” she said.
Reno-based Ormat filed a motion on December 20 seeking interventionist status in the case, citing its $68 million investment over 10 years in the project, saying any delay could jeopardize .
“Delaying even a few weeks in the construction of this project … could spell disaster for the financial viability of the project,” the company said, pointing to a December 2021 deadline in its private power generation agreements.
Paul Thomson, Ormat’s vice president, said, “This extraordinarily long and thorough review period took more years than anticipated, and was several years longer than other Ormat projects permitted on federal lands, which are typically It takes about two years to give permission.”
The bureau announced project approval in November, saying the two 30-MW geothermal plants would help Nevada meet its renewable portfolio requirement that state utilities purchase 25% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025. .
Donnelly said the company had refused requests on January 6 to reconsider plans to begin bulldozing for a 10-acre (4-hectare) pad and access road at the site, and to begin construction of the first of the two power plants. .
“That’s why we have to take extraordinary legal measures to ensure that the huge legal loopholes in this project’s approval process are evaluated before the bulldozers run,” he said in an email this week to the Associated Press.