Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

April 16, 2024

Federal Judge Denies Restraining Order Filed Against Interior Sec. Deb Haaland by Tohono O'odham and San Carlos Apache Nations

Construction equipment at the site of work in the San Pedro Valley for the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project is shown on Oct. 29. Alex Binford-Walsh of Archaeology Southwest

Breaking News: Federal Judge Denies Restraining Order Filed Against Interior Sec. Deb Haaland

By Brenda Norrell, Censored News, April 17, 2024

TUCSON -- A federal judge in Tucson denied a restraining order sought against Interior Sec. Deb Haaland by the Tohono O'odham and San Carlos Apache Nations. Haaland is pushing another fake "green energy" project, and bulldozers are ripping through ancient sites, ceremonial places, and medicine gathering places, for transmission lines to take wind energy from New Mexico to California.

Federal Judge Jennifer Zipps denied an injunction to stop work on the SunZia transmission line. Zipps ruled on Tuesday that the tribes and others filing the lawsuit waited too long to file, and the Interior and BLM had fulfilled their obligations to prepare inventory and identify cultural resources.

The Tohono O'odham Nation said in a statement:

"The Tohono O’odham Nation is disappointed by Tuesday’s federal court order denying our request for a preliminary injunction to stop construction of the SunZia Transmission Line through the San Pedro River Valley but remains steadfastly focused on pursuing all legal and other strategies to protect our sacred land.

“Our goal is not only to protect our ancestorial cultural history and the San Pedro River Valley’s pristine environment, but to also ensure the federal government is held accountable for its actions in violation of laws designed specifically to protect sacred lands,” Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Verlon Jose said.

"The Nation, along with the San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Center for Biological Diversity and Archeology Southwest, filed the lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction on Jan. 30, 2024. In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer G. Zipps clearly states what’s at stake:

“San Pedro Valley is one of the most culturally intact landscapes in Southern Arizona. People have been living and traveling along the San Pedro River for the last 12,000 years and evidence of this past human activity remains to this day. Because of its human history, the San Pedro Valley is of great cultural significance to several Native American Tribes, including the Tohono O’odham Nation, San Carlos Apache Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, and the Pueblo of Zuni.”

“This is far too important of an issue to be deterred by this ruling,” Chairman Jose said. “The United States’ renewable energy policy that includes destroying sacred and undeveloped landscapes is fundamentally wrong and must stop.”

The pristine region of the San Pedro Valley in southern Arizona, is the ancestral homeland of San Xavier O'oodham, their ancestors Hohokam, and Apache.

Interior Sec. Haaland Pushing Destructive Wind Energy Project as "Green Energy"

Tohono O'odham and Apache said it was heartbreaking to see Haaland speaking at the launch of the wind project in New Mexico. SunZia is owned by Pattern Energy of San Francisco.

“The SunZia Transmission Project will accelerate our nation’s transition to a clean energy economy by unlocking renewable resources, creating jobs, lowering costs, and boosting local economies,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “Through historic investments from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, the Interior Department is helping build modern, resilient climate infrastructure that protects our communities from the worsening impacts of climate change.”

Judge Zipps denied the restraining order the day after Haaland spoke to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, praising the work that Biden was doing, and claiming the Interior was honoring and respecting tribes.

Interior Sec. Deb Haaland speaking to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York on Monday. Screenshot by Censored News.

Haaland Praises Biden and Her Work at UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, told the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on Monday that the Biden administration is upholding the government-to-government relationship with tribes and honoring the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"President Biden recognizes that each of the challenges we face impacts another and requires comprehensive solutions. We’ve unleashed a whole of government approach," Haaland told the U.N. Permanent Forum.

Haaland claimed Biden and the Interior are honoring their trust responsibilities and mandate to consult with Native American Tribes.

Haaland told the UN Forum, "President Biden’s Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation to Nation Relationships outlines our commitment to respect Tribal sovereignty and self-governance, fulfill Federal trust and treaty responsibilities, and engage in regular, meaningful, and robust consultation with Tribal Nations."

Haaland said tribes are being "heard and seen."

A coalition of Arizona tribes and conservation groups are challenging the federal government's green light for SunZia Transmission to start building a stretch of its 550-mile, high-voltage power line are defending the timeliness of their bid to halt work and compel the Bureau of Land Management to identify and safeguard cultural sites and sacred areas in the San Pedro Valley.

The Tohono O'odham and San Carlos Apache Nations said in a joint statement:

"The Tohono O’odham Nation and San Carlos Apache Tribe, together with Archaeology Southwest and the Center for Biological Diversity, have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for failure to comply with federal laws and executive orders that would protect cultural sites from the SunZia high-voltage transmission line.

"The lawsuit, filed January 17, 2024, seeks to overturn BLM’s issuance of a Limited Notice to Proceed (LNTP) to SunZia, halting construction and requiring the agency to follow the law.

"The SunZia project, developed by Canadian-owned Pattern Energy, aims to run a massive high-voltage transmission line through the heart of the lower San Pedro Valley, causing irreparable damage to sacred and cultural sites of the Tohono O’odham Nation, San Carlos Apache Tribe, and other tribes."

"In issuing SunZia the permits to move forward, BLM failed to follow the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and multiple executive orders on historic preservation and tribal consultation. Despite repeated calls from tribes and others going back more than a decade, BLM failed to conduct an adequate inventory of historic properties and cultural resources that would be impacted by the SunZia project.

"The Bureau also failed to properly consult with impacted tribes and address the concerns that were repeatedly raised. This disregard for tribal cultural resources corrupted the NHPA process and resulted in the unlawful granting of a LNTP which has allowed SunZia and Pattern Energy to plow forward with construction despite the permanent damage to sacred and cultural resources in the San Pedro Valley," the tribes said.

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