Tribes And Environmental Organizations Ask US Court To Block $10b Energy Transmission Project In Arizona

Aiexpress – A request has been made to a federal judge to issue a stop-work order on a $10 billion transmission line project. This transmission line is being constructed through a remote valley in southeastern Arizona in order to transport wind-powered electricity to customers, including those in California.

The U.S. Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management are facing a 32-page lawsuit filed on Jan. 17 in U.S. District Court in Tucson, Arizona. The lawsuit accuses them of neglecting to acknowledge the “overwhelming evidence of the cultural significance” of the remote San Pedro Valley to Native American tribes such as the Tohono O’odham, Hopi, Zuni, and Western Apache for nearly 15 years.

Pattern Energy filed the lawsuit soon after gaining approval to transmit electricity from its SunZia Transmission wind farm in central New Mexico through the San Pedro Valley, located east of Tucson and north of Interstate 10.

The lawsuit describes the valley as a remarkably preserved and significant landscape in southern Arizona. It is considered to be one of the most intact and historically rich areas in the region. The plaintiffs are seeking restraining orders or permanent injunctions from the court to put a stop to the ongoing construction activities.

Construction proceeding would cause irreparable harm to the San Pedro Valley, according to the statement.

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SunZia Wind and Transmission and government representatives did not respond to emailed messages on Monday. They are expected to provide a response in court. The project has been hailed as the largest electricity infrastructure initiative in the United States since the construction of the Hoover Dam.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Tohono O’odham Nation, the San Carlos Apache Reservation, and nonprofit organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity and Archaeology Southwest.

Archaeology Southwest emphasized the importance of preserving this landscape, referring to the San Pedro as “Arizona’s last free-flowing river.” They described the valley as a remarkable testament to the enduring relationship between human societies and the environment, spanning over 12,000 years of cultural and ecological transformations.

The valley is a significant segment of the proposed 550-mile (885-kilometer) conduit that will transport electricity from the new wind farms in central New Mexico to the existing transmission lines in Arizona. This power transmission project aims to supply populated areas as distant as California. President Joe Biden has recognized its importance in achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.

In September, after years of negotiations, work commenced in New Mexico, following the approval from the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency responsible for overseeing extensive areas of the U.S. West.

The U.S. Defense Department raised concerns about the effects of high-voltage lines on radar systems and military training operations, leading to a modification of the route in New Mexico.

In November, work on the San Pedro Valley project was temporarily paused due to requests from tribes to review environmental approvals. However, it resumed a few weeks later, which Tohono O’odham Chairman Verlon M. Jose described as a significant setback.

SunZia plans to start operating the transmission line by 2026, delivering over 3,500 megawatts of wind power to approximately 3 million individuals. Throughout the project, extensive surveys were conducted and collaboration with tribes was established to ensure the identification and preservation of cultural resources in the surrounding area.

The court filing includes a compelling photo that depicts the construction of ridgetop access roads and tower sites near Redrock Canyon, west of the San Pedro River. This aerial view, taken in November, showcases the development taking place in an otherwise pristine and untouched region, as noted by tribal officials and environmentalists.

The transmission line is currently facing a challenge in the Arizona Court of Appeals. The court is being asked to assess whether the project’s benefits and consequences were adequately evaluated by state regulatory officials.

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