I only recently started specifically looking for BLM cases, so I may be catching up late on some of them. Most seem to involve mining and energy. (This summary includes one Forest Service case.)
New lawsuit: Center for Biological Diversity v. Haaland (D. Nev.)
On July 7, CBD and Amargosa Conservancy challenged the BLM’s authorization of the Let’s Go Lithium mineral exploration project on federal lands in BLM’s Pahrump Planning Area, in the vicinity of springs in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, and two BLM Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. Lithium mining requires a lot of water. The project would involve up to 30 exploratory drillholes. The proposal allegedly violates FLPMA, NEPA and indirectly ESA (with regard to consultation on 12 species). On July 17 plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary injunction. The article includes a link to the complaint. Also, according to this article, “under federal law, most exploratory projects on public land are not required to submit a plan of operation, complete an environmental analysis, or solicit public comment.” A representative of the Conservancy was quoted:
“We are collectively witnessing what is inarguably the greatest transformation of public lands in our nation’s history, and western Nevada’s Amargosa Desert is at the epicenter of this change. Renewable energy development and lithium extraction are the twin priorities driving this transformation forward at an unprecedented scale and pace.”
His reference to renewable energy was probably to the Interior Department’s recent sale of leases for solar development on 23,675 acres in or near the Amargosa Valley Solar Energy Zone, a designated solar leasing area with high solar potential and what the Bureau of Land Management in a 2012 analysis characterized as an area of low resource conflict. The BLM identified the Amargosa valley as one of 17 nationwide solar energy zones wherein solar energy projects are encouraged. (The BLM is currently processing 74 utility-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects on public lands in the western United States. An additional 150 solar and wind development applications are undergoing preliminary reviews.)
“Utility-scale solar does not have a huge annual consumption of water during operation, but construction activities can use thousands of acre-feet of water for a single facility. If BLM is going to develop tens of thousands of acres of solar in this area, it could potentially take tens of thousands of acre feet of water,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin director of the Center for Biological Diversity. He contrasted the lack of a plan for this area with the BLM California’s Desert Renewable Energy and Conservation Plan.
This article also summarizes a number of lawsuits over renewable energy proposals.
Court decision in Western Watersheds Project v. McCullough (9th Cir.)
On July 17, the 9th Circuit affirmed a district court holding that the Bureau of Land Management had not violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal laws when it approved the Thacker Pass lithium mine. This did not address the district court’s order that the BLM complete additional analysis of how the mine will handle waste and tailings in accordance with the 1872 mining law, and it means the mine development can continue while that analysis occurs. The court also ruled the BLM acted “reasonably and in good faith” in its consultation with tribes. “This is the first time in public land history that we have a major project violating a number of provisions but is allowed to go forward,” Roger Flynn, the director of the Colorado-based Western Mining Action Project, told the 9th Circuit panel during oral arguments in Pasadena on June 27. (The article includes a link to the opinion, and here is further background.)
Here is an interesting perspective from “The Voice of the Automotive World.”
In other news, the mining company has sued protesters for what they deemed “nonviolent prayer” protests at the mine site. Lithium Americas was forced to call the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office when protesters got “dangerously close” to construction equipment.
Notice of intent to sue under ESA
On June 20, eight environmental groups challenged the Coronado National Forest’s approval of the Sunnyside and Flux Canyon exploratory mineral drilling projects in the Patagonia Mountains for copper, lead, zinc and silver (discussed here). On July 13, they gave the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service a 60-day notice of intent to sue for Endangered Species Act violations affecting Mexican spotted owls, yellow-billed cuckoos, jaguars, and ocelots. On July 14 they asked for a preliminary injunction on their existing claims. We also discussed another mine in the same area that was being fast-tracked for its rare metals by the Biden Administration. From this article, it does not sound like there will be litigation on the Hermosa Project.
In September 2020, a coalition of conservation groups including Friends of the Floridas, New Mexico Wild, WildEarth Guardians, Gila Resources Information Project, and Amigos Bravos sued BLM to reverse the agency’s simultaneous approvals of construction and operation of a dolomite mine, and the exploration activity required to prove the value of the mineral claim in the Florida Mountains in southwest New Mexico. On July 12, 2023, the Federal District Court for the District of New Mexico heard oral arguments involving violations of NEPA and FLPMA.
As discussed here, the lawsuit against the BLM’s decision to allow Ormat Technologies to develop geothermal resources in Dixie Meadows east of Reno in habitat for the recently listed Dixie Valley toad has been on hold at the request of the developer. BLM has now decided, “As a result of its ESA consultation efforts and new information it has determined that it would be prudent to revisit the environmental review underlying the project. BLM does not intend to authorize any such new construction until the conclusion of the environmental review.” Ormat supports the delay.