Tribes sue Biden administration over permits for high-voltage transmission line

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Two Native American tribes and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Biden administration over a high-voltage transmission plan they say violates federal laws protecting cultural sites.

In the lawsuit, the San Carlos Apache Tribe and the Tohono O’odham Nation called for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approvals of permits for the SunZia high-voltage transmission line to be thrown out.

The plaintiffs filed the suit over the approvals issued last year in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. 

The tribes, joined by the Center and Archaeology Southwest, claimed the Interior Department issued the Limited Notices to Proceed for the transmission line in violation of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). They allege the bureau did not properly analyze the SunZia project’s effects on sites of historic and cultural significance to the tribe, nor did they consult with tribal communities.

“The O’odham and our ancestors the Hohokam have deep cultural and historical connections to the San Pedro Valley, with many sites of great significance,” Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Verlon Jose said in a statement. “We have made BLM and the Pattern Energy aware of this, but their disregard for the NHPA process has put these cultural sites in danger of irreparable harm. They must change course, immediately stop all ground clearing activity, and work with us to protect these sites as required by federal law.”

According to the lawsuit, BLM held brief consultations with tribal leaders after authorizing construction to begin, but then allowed it to resume days later.

President Biden in 2021 named then-Rep. Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary, the first ever indigenous person confirmed to a cabinet position by the Senate. Haaland has emphasized indigenous issues and tribal perspectives during her tenure, but has also occasionally sparked fierce pushback from Native communities as well, most notably with Interior’s approval of the massive Willow oil-drilling project in the Arctic

The Hill has reached out to the Interior Department for comment. 

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