Steens Wind (ONDA v. Jewell)
ONDA and Audubon Society of Portland filed a lawsuit challenging the Department of the Interior's approval of Columbia Energy Partners' plan to build an industrial-scale wind facility on Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon’s high desert.
The decision allows the developer to build up to 69 wind turbines and a high-capacity transmission line on this iconic mountain recognized as part of our National Landscape Conservation System. The lawsuit seeks to block what the conservation groups claim is an illegal project that would forever change an otherwise wild and beautiful landscape.
In 2013, 2014, and again in 2015, ONDA petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to revoke the 2011 project approval decision. ONDA explained that, among other things, the developer had lost its interconnection agreement that was necessary to deliver any electricity to the grid, Southern California Edison had cancelled its agreement to purchase the any electricity generated by the project, the BLM had revoked its Notice to Proceed and refunded the project bond to the developer, the required county permit had become void, and that new science continues to emerge demonstrating that the effects to Greater sage-grouse of industrial-scale wind projects are far more serious than the agency had conceded in its 2010 environmental review.
This crumbling financial and regulatory framework, coupled with powerful new spatial analyses illustrating the severe impacts the project would have on sage-grouse, makes it now clearer than ever that this simply is not the place for an industrial-scale energy project. Despite these seemingly fatal problems, the BLM rejected ONDA's petition in June 2014, leaving conservationists to continue to fight the illegal project in court. (The Secretary has not responded to the petitions.) The case is now pending before the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, having been argued before a three-judge appellate panel in early March of 2016.
Transmission lines for the project would cut across an area on Steens Mountain protected by Congress in 2000 and the project would fragment one of the largest undeveloped landscapes left in the Great Basin. Wind turbines, transmission lines, access roads, and associated development pose threats to migratory routes and breeding areas for sensitive species such as bighorn sheep, Golden eagles, and Greater sage-grouse, a bird recently recognized by the Department of the Interior’s own Fish and Wildlife Service as being in danger of extinction, due primarily to loss and fragmentation of its sagebrush habitat.