Judge Dismisses Native American Tribes’ Bid to Halt Energy Project

Judge's hold hammer on wooden table

Native American tribes and environmentalists had hoped to block the construction of a $10 billion energy transmission line that would transport wind power from New Mexico to consumers as far away as California, but a federal district court has rejected their arguments.

Pattern Energy, a California developer, hailed the decision as a victory for the area, pointing to the project’s potential to generate billions of dollars in investment and new employment.

In her Thursday order, Judge Jennifer Zipps stated that the plaintiffs’ challenge was filed years after the statute of limitations had expired. She had already ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had met its duties to catalog cultural materials and identify historic sites; thus, she denied their petitions for a preliminary injunction.

Located in the San Pedro Valley in southern Arizona, the section of the SunZia transmission line in dispute cuts across sacred land that is important to the local Indigenous communities’ history, culture, and religion.

In January, the Tohono O’odham Nation, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Archeology Southwest filed a lawsuit to halt the clearance of roads and pads. The goal was to increase efforts to identify culturally significant sites within an 80-kilometer (50-mile) section of the valley.

According to environmentalists, an appeal is very probable, and the Tohono O’odham Nation pledged in April to exhaust all legal options.

Some have argued that SunZia and similar initiatives will help President Joe Biden achieve his goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed 550-mile (885-kilometer) tunnel may reach 3 million people with more than 3,500 MW of wind electricity.

The tribes requested federal appeals court intervention in April. The rationale was that the SunZia project calls for a reevaluation of the Bureau of Land Management’s assessment of its responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

The US Department of the Interior, which has jurisdiction over the BLM, chose not to address the verdict.