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Lawsuit filed against wind energy project near Mojave preserve

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) have been sued over the recently-approved Searchlight Wind Project in southern Nevada, with plaintiffs charging that the federal government conducted an inadequate review of the project’s likely effects on desert wildlife. The project, which would generate a maximum of 200 megawatts of electrical power, would place 87 turbines on almost 19,000 acres of public lands within view of the Mojave National Preserve and the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

The suit, which also names former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as a defendant, was filed April 10 in the U.S. District Court in Nevada by the groups Basin and Range Watch and Friends of Searchlight Desert and Mountains, along with Searchlight, NV residents Judy Bundorf and Ellen Ross, and the Reverend Ron Van Fleet, an elder in the Fort Mohave tribe.

Plaintiffs charge that the project, to be built by Duke Energy, would (in the words of the suit) “pose significant adverse harm to a wide array of sensitive and protected species … including desert tortoise, golden eagles, bald eagles, and residential and migratory birds and bats… through direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts” which weren’t adequately addressed in the project’s final environmental impact statement, nor in FWS’s Biological Opinion on the project. The plaintiffs maintain that Secretary Salazar issued a positive Record of Decision for the project based on that inadequate review of the project’s ecological impacts, and that mitigation plans for the ecological damage the project would cause have not been developed.

The suit also alleges that the project would cause irreparable damage to cultural resources important to local tribes, whose origin stories center on a prominent peak some miles south of the project’s footprint.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to set aside Interior’s Record of Decision on the project, as well as FWS’s Biological Opinion and the BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement, and to issue an injunction halting work on the project, which could start construction this year.