January 23, 2024 — In southeastern Arizona’s San Pedro Valley, a federal judge is urged to halt the construction of a $10 billion wind-powered electricity transmission line. This project, intended to supply electricity to distant locations including California, is facing legal challenges for its potential cultural and environmental impact.
A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Tucson on January 17 claims the U.S. Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management ignored substantial evidence of the San Pedro Valley’s cultural significance to Native American tribes. The plaintiffs, including the Tohono O’odham Nation, the San Carlos Apache Reservation, and nonprofit organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity and Archaeology Southwest, emphasize the valley’s historical and ecological importance.
- LINK to the complaint filed by the Tohono O’odham Nation, the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Center for Biological Diversion and Archaeology Southwest against the U.S. Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management
The San Pedro Valley, described in the complaint as an intact prehistoric landscape, is feared to suffer irreversible damage if the construction continues. This valley is a part of the planned 550-mile route for the SunZia Transmission project, which aims to connect wind farms in New Mexico to existing transmission lines in Arizona, contributing to President Joe Biden’s goal of a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.
Archeology Southwest writes in its news release, “The case for protecting this landscape is clear: The San Pedro—Arizona’s last free-flowing river—and its valley embody the unique and timely story of social and ecological sustainability across more than 12,000 years of cultural and environmental change.”
The project, which began in New Mexico in September after lengthy negotiations and modifications due to concerns from the U.S. Defense Department, has faced intermittent halts due to environmental reviews. Despite ongoing discussions and surveys conducted with tribal groups, construction resumed, leading to the current legal challenges.
This transmission line is also under scrutiny in the Arizona Court of Appeals, questioning whether state regulatory officials adequately weighed its benefits and consequences. The outcome of these legal battles could significantly impact the future of this major electricity infrastructure project, likened in scale to the Hoover Dam, and its role in the region’s renewable energy landscape.