RENO, Nev. — (AP) — The developer of a geothermal power plant facing legal challenges in Nevada agreed Monday to halt construction just hours after a U.S. appeals court declined to halt the project, which according to opponents, would harm an endangered toad and destroy sacred hot springs.
In a ruling on Monday morning, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a bid by environmentalists and a Nevada tribe to reinstate an injunction that temporarily blocked work earlier this year on the plant of Ormat Nevada 100 miles (161 kilometers) to the east. of Reno.
But hours later, lawyers for Ormat, the government, environmentalists and the tribe filed a joint stipulation in federal court in Reno detailing a voluntary agreement to halt construction for at least 30 days — and possibly as long as ‘at 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 at temporary emergency risk in April – something the agency only did once. only other time in 20 years.
The project is one of several ongoing projects in the West that the Biden administration is supporting as a way to address climate change by accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
It would generate carbon-free energy by drawing hot water from underground. But the Fish and Wildlife Service concluded in April that this could lead to the toad’s extinction by negatively affecting groundwater that feeds wetlands in the only place where the roughly quarter-sized speckled toad is known.
Monday’s panel ruling from the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, which heard oral argument on the appeal in June, said it could not consider emergency listing because it occurred after the filing of the appeal in January.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe later amended their action to include listing. They allege that Ormat and the office are violating the Endangered Species Act requirement that they consult with the wildlife department before proceeding with any activity that could harm protected species.
The dispute has shed light on some of the challenges the Biden administration faces as it tries to meet its goal of running the U.S. electric grid on clean energy by 2035.
The new agreement filed on Monday acknowledges that formal consultation must be completed so that any risk to the toad can be fully assessed before it is harmed.
“It’s not every day you can lose at the 9th homer but still win, but today is a win for the Dixie Valley Toad,” said Patrick Donnelly, Grand Basin director for the Center. for biological diversity.
“This deal comes just in time to save this little toad from extinction,” he said.
Ormat agreed to suspend construction until the service issues a formal biological advisory following the consultation, or until Dec. 31, whichever comes first.
He also agreed to provide 30 days notice before resuming any construction. In turn, the opponents agreed that they would not seek any further court orders until they received such notice.
Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen said the Reno-based company was already working with both agencies to facilitate the consultation process “and as part of those collaborative efforts, has temporarily suspended construction to focus on these efforts.
“Ormat is confident that BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service can find a way forward for the project that will both adequately protect the Dixie Valley Toad and enable the development of this critical renewable geothermal resource,” it said. he said in an email Monday night.
The 9th Circuit committee’s decision earlier Monday said further delay to the project would make it “almost certain” that Ormat would not be able to meet a contractual deadline to complete construction by the end of this year.
Ormat said earlier that missing 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 losses to Ormat,” the panel said, “the District Court properly considered the public interest in a ‘carbon-free baseload electricity source,’ royalties to the federal government, and national and local taxes that would be collected as a result of the project.
The joint stipulation outlines a timeline with filing deadlines as U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones in Reno continues to review the case on the merits.
Critics say the project will violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by restricting access to the site where Native Americans worshiped for thousands of years.
Their lawsuit also accuses the bureau of violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to complete an environmental impact statement of potential impacts — a much more comprehensive review than the environmental assessment it produced.
The 9th Circuit panel ruled that Judge Jones was right to defer to the expertise of BLM scientists who concluded that adequate safeguards were in place.
Plans approved by the office “address unforeseen impacts and impose significant mitigation measures if necessary,” the decision says. “BLM was not required to mitigate impacts to zero.”