Tribal group sues federal agencies over Blythe Solar approval

A lawsuit filed Dec. 4 by a Native American group accuses the U.S. Interior Dept. and its Bureau of Land Management of improperly approving an environmental impact statement for a 485-MW solar project in California.

This complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, challenges the actions of Interior and BLM in approving the Modified Blythe Solar Power Project (also called “Blythe II”), a utility-scale solar facility slated for development on federal land northwest of Blythe, California. The project site is located within the ancestral homelands of the members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT), whose reservation begins just a few miles northeast of the site, the lawsuit said. “The religion and culture of CRIT’s members are strongly connected to the physical environment of the area, including the ancient trails, petroglyphs, grindstones, hammerstones, and other cultural resources known to exist there,” it added. “The removal or destruction of these artifacts and the development of the Project as planned will cause CRIT, its government, and its members irreparable harm.”

The lawsuit claimed that BLM conducted no government-to-government consultation with CRIT prior to approval of the project. “It then allowed the project developer to begin ground-disturbing activities before any cultural resource monitoring or treatment plans were in place,” the lawsuit added. “The Environmental Impact Statement (‘EIS’) prepared for the Project failed to take the requisite ‘hard look’ at its impacts.”

In 2013, NextEra Blythe Solar Energy Center LLC, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources LLC, purchased the unbuilt assets of Blythe I, the tribe noted. NextEra then relinquished approximately 35% of the right-of-way grant area. It submitted a new plan to develop the remaining 65% with a photovoltaic, solar facility. Blythe II would generate 485 MW of solar electricity on approximately 4,000 acres of federal land.

CRIT said it submitted comments earlier this year on a draft EIS for the new version of the project, with BLM issuing the final EIS in May of this year. CRIT said it told the agency at the time that the EIS was improperly done.

Among other things, the lawsuit says: “The EIS fails to include a full and fair discussion of the Project’s significant environmental impacts as required by [the National Environmental Policy Act] because it does not sufficiently identify the cultural resources that will be affected by the Project or analyze how those resources will be impacted.”

The lawsuit added: “The EIS fails to fully consider environmentally superior alternatives to achieving the Project’s goals because the EIS narrowly defined the purpose and need for the Project as responding to the applicant’s request.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.