Geothermal plant wins appeal but halts Nevada construction

RENO, Nev.- (AP) – The developer of a geothermal power plant in Nevada facing legal challenges agreed on Monday to suspend construction, just hours after a US appeals court refused to halt the project of that opponents say would harm an endangered toad and destroy sacred hot springs.

In a ruling on Monday morning, a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a bid by environmentalists and a Nevada tribe to restore an injunction that struck 100 miles (161 kilometers) earlier this year. In the past, Ormutt had temporarily blocked work at the Nevada plant. of Reno.

But hours later, Ormat, the government, environmentalists and lawyers for the tribe filed a joint stipulation in federal court in Reno, detailing a voluntary agreement to suspend construction for at least 30 days — and perhaps by the end of the year.

The unusual turn of events comes after the US Fish and Wildlife Service took the rare step of declaring the Dixie Valley toad as endangered in April on a temporary emergency basis – something the agency has done only once in 20 years.

The project is one of several ongoing projects in the West that the Biden administration supports as a way to tackle climate change by accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

It will generate carbon-free electricity by harnessing hot water from under the earth. But the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in April that it could lead to the extinction of the toad by adversely affecting groundwater, which is known for the existence of the spotted toad only the size of a quarter.

Monday’s decision by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit’s panel, which heard oral arguments on the appeal in June, said it could not consider the emergency listing because it was after the appeal was filed in January.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Fallen Paiute-Shoshone Tribe later amended their suit to include the listing. He alleged that Ormat and the Bureau were in violation of the Endangered Species Act’s requirement that they consult the Wildlife Service before proceeding with any activity that may harm protected species.

The conflict has highlighted some of the challenges facing the Biden administration as it tries to meet its goal of running the US power grid on clean energy by 2035.

The new settlement, filed Monday, acknowledges that a formal consultation must be completed so that any risk to Todd can be fully assessed before harm is caused.

“It’s not every day that you can lose at the 9th Circuit but still come out, but today the Dixie Valley Toads win,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“This agreement comes just in time to save this little toad from extinction,” he said.

Ormat agreed to postpone construction until after consultation the service issues a formal organic opinion, or until 31 December, whichever comes first.

It was also agreed to give 30 days notice before resuming any construction. In return, the opponents agreed that they would not seek a new court order before receiving such notice.

Ormat’s vice president, Paul Thomson, said the Reno-based company was already working with two agencies to facilitate the consultation process “and was temporarily looking to focus these efforts as part of a collaborative effort.” The construction has since been stopped.”

“Ormat is confident that the BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service can find a way forward for the project that will adequately protect the Dixie Valley toad and allow the development of this vital renewable geothermal resource,” he said late Monday. Said in an email.

The 9th Circuit’s panel decision said earlier on Monday that further delays in the project would make it “everything certain”, with Ormat unable to meet a contractual deadline to complete construction by the end of this year.

Ormat previously said that failure to meet the deadline would cost the company $30 million over 20 years and could jeopardize the entire project, which was approved by the US Bureau of Land Management in November.

“Beyond the economic loss to Ormat,” the panel said, “the district court properly considered the public interest in a ‘source of carbon-free baseload electricity’, royalty returns to the federal government, and state and local taxes that would be collected from the project.” As a result of. “

Joint Condition outlines a program with a filing deadline as U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones in Reno continues to consider the case on its merits.

Critics say the project would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by restricting access to a place where Native Americans have worshiped for thousands of years.

His lawsuit also accuses the bureau of violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to complete an environmental impact statement on potential impacts – a much more detailed review than the environmental assessment it produced.

The 9th Circuit panel ruled that Judge Jones was right in reference to the expertise of BLM scientists, who concluded that adequate safeguards were in place.

The plans the bureau has approved “address unexpected impacts and implement meaningful mitigation measures as needed,” the ruling said. “The BLM was not required to reduce the impacts to zero.”

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