On Nov. 4, the Quechan Native American tribe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, to block the Imperial Valley Solar Project.

flat-tailed horned lizard 

Slated for 6,359.56 acres in El Centro, in the California portion of the Sonoran Desert, the 709-MW project reportedly threatens critical habitat of the flat-tailed horned lizard, part of Quechan creation mythology.

It is the Quechan tribe’s contention that the BLM, in fast-tracking the project on public lands, did not take the time to study the downsides or recognize the damage that might occur to culturally significant (Quechan) sites.

The suit closely follows California Energy Commission approval of the project, granted on Oct. 5 by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, following approval by BLM Director Robert Abbey on Oct. 4.

In their suit, Quechan tribal members charge that the Imperial Valley project is a violation of federal laws, regulations and policies, including the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the National Historic Preservation Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the California Desert Conservation Area Land Use Management Plan.

They also state that fast-tracking the project was done so that the applicant (Tessera Solar) could “obtain millions of dollars of federally available (ARRA) financing that purportedly required project approval before the end of 2010.”

In order to get injunctive relief, the tribe will reportedly have to prove that the threat is imminent (e.g., construction is about to begin); succeed in proving the validity of at least one of the six claims it is bringing against the BLM; prove that its hardship exceeds that of the developers and the federal government; and demonstrate that stopping the project “serves the public interest.”

This latter would be the toughest obstacle since, without a vast, time-consuming and highly expensive survey, who knows where the public’s interest truly lies?

As reported by a San Diego news source, a group of activists plan to camp at the site Nov. 8-10 to protest the solar farm’s approval.

The project, by Tessera Solar, is a concentrating solar power (CSP) system using Stirling engines and mirrored discs concentrating sunlight on a central receiver just outside each disc.

Photo Credit: Gabrielle Mc via Flickr CC