Environmentalists and tribal leaders are suing the U.S. government to block construction of two geothermal power plants in the high desert of northern Nevada that they say will destroy sacred hot springs and could push a rare toad to the brink of extinction.
The lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe says the project would transform a “virgin and unique location of ecological and spiritual significance” into an industrial site.
It is the latest conflict on public lands pitting green energy production against potential damage to wildlife habitat or cultural resources in the country’s largest gold-producing state, where court challenges traditionally target things like hard rock mining.
National environmentalists have rallied behind President Biden’s ambitious renewable energy program, which spans solar, wind and geothermal production.
Geothermal power plants pump water from underground to generate steam and generate electricity. The deeper they drill, 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 approving Ormat Technologies Inc.’s project in Dixie Meadows, about 100 miles east of Reno, without the necessary environmental scan.
He also says the agency is violating the law on restoring religious freedom.
Bureau spokesperson Chris Rose said the agency had not commented on the litigation.
A judge has scheduled a hearing in U.S. District Court in Reno on Tuesday to consider the groups’ subsequent request for a restraining order to temporarily block the initial construction work that Ormat planned to begin as early as Thursday.
Formed by natural sources, Dixie Meadows is a critical wetland ecosystem in a desert oasis that is home to the Dixie Valley toad, which is not found anywhere else in the world, according to the lawsuit.
The Biden administration approved the project last month even though the Center for Biological Diversity’s petition to classify the toad as endangered in the United States is still pending before the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The center is the same group that won an endangered species list earlier this year for a rare plant at the site of a proposed lithium mine 225 miles southeast of Reno. Lithium is a key component of batteries for electric vehicles, a centerpiece of Biden’s energy strategy.
“We strongly support renewables when they are in the right place, but a project like this that threatens sacred sites and endangered species is definitely not in the right place,” said Patrick Donnelly, director from the State of Nevada on geothermal power plants.
Tribal President Cathi Tuni said the ancestors of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone have lived in the Dixie Valley area for thousands of years and have long recognized the hot springs as “a sacred place of healing and reflection.”
“The United States has repeatedly promised to honor and protect Indigenous sacred sites, but the BLM then approved a major construction project almost above our most sacred hot springs. It just sounds like more empty words, ”she said.
Reno-based Ormat filed a motion on Dec. 20 seeking intervenor status in the case, citing her 10-year, $ 68 million investment in the project, which she said could be jeopardized by any delay. .
“Even a few weeks of delay in the construction of this project (…) can be catastrophic for the financial viability of the project,” the company said, indicating a deadline of December 2021 in its private power generation agreements.
“This exceptionally long and in-depth review period has taken years longer than expected, and several years longer than the majority of other Ormat projects authorized on federal lands, which have typically taken around two years to be authorized,” said said Ormat vice president Paul Thomsen.
The Bureau of Land Management said when announcing approval of the project in November that the two 30-megawatt geothermal power plants would help Nevada meet its renewable energy portfolio requirement that state utilities must obtain 25% of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.
Donnelly said the company had refused requests to reconsider plans to begin bulldozing a 10-acre platform and access road to the site on Thursday and begin building the first of two power plants.
“That is why we had to take extraordinary legal steps, to ensure that the massive legal loopholes in the approval process for this project are assessed before the bulldozers start to operate,” he said in a report. -mail this week to the Associated Press.