Endangered List for Nevada Toad in the Fight Against Geothermal Energy

RENO, Nev. — A small Nevada toad at the center of a legal battle over a geothermal energy project has been officially declared an endangered species after US wildlife officials temporarily listed it on a rarely used emergency basis in last spring.

“This decision makes the listing of the Dixie Valley toad final,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service said in an official rule published Friday in the Federal Register.

The quarter-sized spectacled amphibian “is currently at risk of extinction throughout its range, primarily due to approval and the start of geothermal development,” the service said.

Other threats to the toad include groundwater pumping, agriculture, climate change, disease, and bullfrog predation.

The temporary listing in April was only the second time in 20 years that the agency has taken such an emergency measure.

Environmentalists who first applied for the listing in 2017 filed a lawsuit in January to block construction of the geothermal power plant at the edge of the wetlands where the toad lives about 160 kilometers east of Reno – the only place known to exist. on earth.

“We are thrilled that the Biden administration is taking this critical step to prevent the extinction of an irreplaceable part of Nevada’s special biodiversity,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin regional director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The center and a tribe fighting the project say pumping hot water from beneath the earth’s surface to generate carbon-free energy would negatively affect the levels and temperatures of surface waters essential to the toad’s survival and sacred for the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe.

The Fish and Wildlife Service cited these concerns in the final listing rule.

“The best available information indicates that a complete reduction in spring flow and a significant reduction in water temperature are plausible outcomes of the geothermal project, and these conditions could lead to the extirpation of the species,” the report said. ‘agency.

“Because the species occurs in a single spring system and has not experienced habitat changes of the expected magnitude or rate, it may have little potential to adapt to a rapidly changing environment” , did he declare. “We find that the threatened status is not appropriate because the threat of extinction is imminent.”

Officials at Reno-based developer Ormat Technology said the service’s decision was “not unexpected” given the emergency listing in April. In recent months, the company has worked with the agency and the United States Bureau of Land Management to modify the project to increase mitigation for the toad and reduce any threat to its survival.

The lawsuit over the original plan to build two power plants capable of producing 60 MW of electricity is currently before US District Judge Robert Jones in Reno. He has already made a trip to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in August declined to grant a temporary injunction blocking construction of the power plant that the board approved in December 2021.

But just hours after that decision, Ormat announced that it had agreed to temporarily suspend all work on the project until next year. Then in late October, the bureau and Ormat asked the judge to stay the case while Ormat submitted a new plan to build a single geothermal power plant, at least for now, that would only produce 12 MW of electricity.

Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen said in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday that the company disagreed with the Department of Public Safety’s “characterization of potential impacts” of its project. fauna as the basis for the listing decision. He said this does not change the ongoing coordination and consultation already underway to minimize and mitigate any of these impacts “regardless of its status under the Endangered Species Act”.

“Following the emergency listing decision, BLM has entered into consultations with the FWS, and Ormat has sought approval for a smaller project consent that would provide further assurances that the species will not be threatened by geothermal development,” he said.

“As a zero-emissions renewable energy facility, the project will advance the Biden administration’s clean energy initiatives and support the fight against climate change,” Thomsen said.

Donnelly agreed that renewable energy is “essential to tackling the climate emergency”.

“But it can’t come at the cost of extinction,” he said.

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