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Native American Tribes Challenge $10 Billion SunZia Transmission Line Over Cultural Concerns

by Anna

The commencement of construction for the $10 billion SunZia transmission line, considered a vital component of the United States’ shift towards renewable energy, has sparked opposition from Native American leaders. The project, stretching about 550 miles from central New Mexico to California, aims to transmit electricity from expansive wind farms to densely populated areas. Despite federal approvals and groundbreaking events, concerns raised by Native American tribes, particularly regarding the transmission line’s passage through a culturally significant valley in southern Arizona, have led to temporary halts in certain project segments.

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Pattern Energy, the California-based developer of the SunZia transmission line, has characterized the initiative as an infrastructure project surpassing the scale of the Hoover Dam. The line’s construction is part of the broader push for clean energy and sustainability.

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In Arizona, work along a 50-mile stretch through the San Pedro Valley was briefly halted after the Tohono O’odham Nation, along with other tribes and archaeologists, raised concerns about the lack of formal consultation before construction began. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) temporarily suspended work but later resumed activities. The BLM scheduled a meeting with tribal leaders on December 11 to address concerns.

The Tohono O’odham Nation, alongside other tribal leaders, asserts that the federal government failed to fulfill its obligation to consult with tribes before initiating construction. While the BLM lifted the temporary suspension, tribal leaders express disappointment, considering the move a breach of good faith.

Tohono O’odham Chairman Verlon M. Jose expressed his frustration, emphasizing the cultural significance of the affected land. He noted that bulldozers have already damaged areas containing sacred sites, and the tribe feels that meaningful consultation has been lacking throughout the project’s planning.

The SunZia transmission line, deemed a remarkable success story for the nation’s transition to a clean energy economy, has faced environmental and ecological concerns. In New Mexico, route modifications were made to address Defense Department concerns about radar systems and military training operations, as well as environmentalists’ worries about impacts on wildlife habitat and migratory bird flight patterns.

The legal challenge pending before the Arizona Court of Appeals further underscores the ecological concerns surrounding the project. The case questions whether state regulatory officials in Arizona adequately considered the benefits and consequences of the SunZia transmission line.

As the Biden administration pushes for renewable energy infrastructure, such conflicts highlight the need for thorough consultation with Native American tribes and careful consideration of cultural and environmental impacts in the planning and execution of large-scale projects.

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