Arizona was hoping to install a transmission line through a remote section of the state that would carry electricity generated from wind to consumers throughout the southwest, but it’s now being challenged in court.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court, accuses the federal Interior Department of Bureau of Land Management of not recognizing for 15 years the “overwhelming evidence of the cultural significance” of the regions through which the $10 billion line will travel through.
This includes sections of the San Pedro Valley that are special to the Western Apache, Hopi, Zuni and Tohono O’odham American tribes.
The lawsuit was officially filed not long after approval was given to Pattern Energy to transmit electricity it generates from the SunZia Transmission wind farm located in New Mexico through the San Pedro Valley north of I-10 and east of Tucson.
The valley, according to the lawsuit, is “one of the most intact, prehistoric and historical … landscapes in southern Arizona. … The San Pedro Valley will be irreparably harmed if construction proceeds.”
The lawsuit seeks for the federal court to issue either a permanent injunction or a restraining order so that construction on the transmission line has to come to a halt. The plaintiffs include the San Carlos Apache Reservation and the Tohono O’odham Nation, as well as non-profit groups Archaeology Southwest and Center for Biological Diversity.
While representatives from the federal government as well as SunZia Wind and Transmission didn’t issue a response to the lawsuit, they are obviously expected to do so through their court filings.
Many people who are in support of the project have said it will be the biggest undertaking of electricity infrastructure in the U.S. since the Hoover Dam was built.
In a statement explaining their opposition to the project, representatives from Archaeology Southwest said:
“The case for protecting this landscape is clear. [The San Pedro Valley is] Arizona’s last free-flowing river [and is the embodiment of a] unique and timely story of social and ecological sustainability across more than 12,000 years of cultural and environmental change.”
The transmission line is proposed to be 550 miles long, and it will travel through roughly 50 miles of the San Pedro Valley. The project was designed to carry a massive amount of electricity from wind farms located in New Mexico to existing lines that are in Arizona. This would then send the electricity to more populous areas of the southwest, including California.
The project is considered an integral part of President Joe Biden’s aims to create a power sector that is carbon free by 2035.
After the Bureau of Land Management gave its approval of the project, work started on the transmission line last September. The route had to be modified, though, after the U.S. Defense Department had concerns about the effects that the high-voltage lines might have on military training operations and radar systems.
While work stopped for a brief time in November after tribes pleaded for reviews of the environmental approvals related to the valley, it resumed only a few weeks later.