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Judge dismisses Native American challenge to $10 billion SunZia energy transmission project in Arizona

A U.S. district judge has dismissed claims by Native American tribes and environmentalists who tried to halt construction along part of a $10 billion energy transmission line.

A U.S. district judge has dismissed claims by Native American tribes and environmentalists who sought to halt construction along part of a $10 billion energy transmission line that will carry wind-generated electricity from New Mexico to customers as far away as California.

Judge Jennifer Zipps said in her ruling Thursday that the plaintiffs were years late in filing their appeal. It followed an earlier decision denying their requests for a preliminary injunction, saying the Bureau of Land Management had met its obligations to identify historic sites and establish an inventory of cultural resources.

The disputed portion of the SunZia transmission line is located in the San Pedro Valley of southern Arizona and passes through an area of ​​historical, cultural and religious significance to the tribes.

The Tohono O’odham Nation – along with the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Center for Biological Diversity and Southwest Archeology – filed a lawsuit in January hoping to stop the clearing of roads and trails so more work can be done to identify culturally significant locations within an area. 80 kilometer long stretch of the valley.

California-based developer Pattern Energy called the ruling a victory for the region, citing the jobs and billions of dollars in economic development and investment that will result from the project.

“This decision provides assurance that projects that follow permitting processes and obtain the proper approvals will not be threatened by baseless legal claims years later,” Pattern Chief Development Officer Cary Kottler said in an email to The Associated Press. “We remain committed to conducting our work with the same integrity and dedication that has always characterized us, including in a manner that respects tribal sovereignty and the protection of cultural resources.”

The tribes did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Tohono O’odham Nation pledged in April to pursue all legal avenues, and environmentalists said an appeal is likely.

“This energy company has worked very hard to pretend that they can address the issue by destroying as much as possible as quickly as possible,” said Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “That does not work.”

SunZia is among projects that supporters say will boost President Joe Biden’s agenda to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The planned 885 kilometer pipeline could transport more than 3,500 megawatts of wind energy to 3 million people.

The tribes asked a federal appeals court in April to intervene, arguing that the federal government has statutory and separate obligations under the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act and that the Bureau of Land’s interpretation Management on how its obligations apply to the SunZia project needs to be reviewed.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Land Management, declined to comment on the ruling.

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