Friday, December 17, 2021

Tribe Sues Claiming Energy Project Violates Its Religious Rights

The Center for Biological Diversity announced yesterday:

The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wednesday over its approval of the Dixie Meadows geothermal energy project, which could dry up nearby springs and harm an extremely rare amphibian, the Dixie Valley toad.

The complaint (full text) in Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe v. U.S. Department of the Interior, (D NV, filed 12/15/2021), includes a claim that approval of the project violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

188. The Tribe and its members’ sincerely held religious beliefs involve quiet contemplation and reflection at Dixie Meadows Hot Springs, including the surrounding landscape. Tribal members’ compliance with these beliefs is a religious exercise.

189. Defendants’ approval of the Project creates government-imposed coercive pressure on the Tribal members to change or violate their religious beliefs. As detailed in this Complaint, approval of the Project damages the sacred value of the Hot Springs by altering its undisturbed state, and damages Tribal members’ ability to carry out religious practices by creating noise, light, and visual pollution.

The complaint points out:

59. On November 9, 2021—14 days before BLM approved the Project—Interior, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, CEQ, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority entered into a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) concerning the protection of indigenous sacred sites.

60. The MOU recognizes that the spiritual and religious practices and traditions of indigenous peoples are closely tied to the natural world and specific places.