National Park Fossils May Block Big Transmission Line

Published by The Bee News

February 16, 2023

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Tule Springs Paleo Survey Results Complicate Controversial Greenlink Route

Washington, DC — Plans for a mega-transmission corridor in Nevada have hit a roadblock in the form of a survey showing that its route through a national park would likely destroy a trove of prehistoric fossils, according to the results of a ground-penetrating survey released today Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The survey of Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument found the strong likelihood of “vertebrate skeletal elements” in areas along the proposed right-of-way for the planned “Greenlink West” high-voltage system to transmit power between Las Vegas and Reno.

When Congress created the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in 2014 near Las Vegas to protect invaluable Ice Age paleontological discoveries, it also authorized a nearby electric transmission corridor (called Greenlink West) to carry “primarily… renewable energy resources.” In the intervening years, two things changed: 1) the Greenlink West project will serve natural gas facilities; and 2) it has been rerouted to cross the Monument.

Besides the utility that has proposed the lines (NV Energy), the right-of-way through federal lands is being pushed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and its parent agency, the Department of Interior, which also oversees the National Park Service (NPS).

In comments filed last year with BLM, the NPS warned about the adverse impact on world-class fossils, such as mammoths, bison, and camels, as well as ancient tortoises at Tule Springs:

“The proposed alignment of the Greenlink West Project would pass through fossiliferous deposits in the park as well as east and west of the park. These deposits contain known fossil sites …The construction of the transmission line…will have the potential to impact paleontological resources, including an undetermined number of fossil remains and unrecorded fossil sites… making those sediments and their paleontological resources unavailable for future scientific investigation.”

That protest led to the funding of a ground-penetrating survey to assess potential damage. Those survey results, released to PEER under the Freedom of Information Act, appear to confirm those fears, with findings that areas surveyed –

“…detected anomalies exhibited forms highly suggestive of vertebrate skeletal elements. Barring alternative explanations for these anomalies, the most reasonable explanation is that they are likely caused by the presence of fossils.”

“Less than a decade after Congress created this small monument to preserve prehistoric fossils, it is already under threat of destruction,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal, noting the survey also found “visible mammoth tusks” at one location. “It is beyond ironic that this fossil fuel project will entail the destruction of fossils.”

These survey results present major legal problems for the proposed Greenlink West corridor. The Park Service’s own Organic Act forbids impairment of park resources – and in this case the resource under threat is the one this park was created to protect. In addition, the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act generally forbids the destruction of fossils on federal lands.

“These legal barriers cannot be finessed,” added Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, an attorney who has worked on these issues for more than 30 years, noting that the BLM has yet to release its draft Environmental Impact Report on the Greenlink project. “If BLM and NV Energy persist with their current corridor route, the project will be tied up in litigation for years to come.”

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