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Environmentalists sue over Medicine Lake geothermal plans
SACRAMENTO - Environmental groups have sued the federal government over geothermal projects it has approved in the remote Medicine Lake Highlands region considered sacred by Indian tribes.
The suit, filed Tuesday and announced Wednesday, challenges approval of the first two geothermal power plants proposed by Calpine Corp. Both would be built within the Medicine Lake caldera, the remnant of an ancient volcano 30 miles east of Mt. Shasta and 10 miles south of the Lava Beds National Monument in northeastern California.
The four environmental coalitions that filed the suit in Sacramento federal court contend the power projects at Fourmile Hill and Telephone Flat would turn an otherwise scenic natural area into "an ugly, noisy, stinking industrial wasteland."
A Forest Service spokesman declined comment, citing the pending suit, and a BLM spokesman did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press. Calpine issued a statement saying the region "is a valued, renewable geothermal resource - one of very few in North America. Calpine respects the rights of indigenous peoples and remains committed to working with the tribes on the proposed Glass Mountain development in order to address their concerns."
The projects, which have also drawn criticism from Indian tribes, would include erecting 150-foot high drilling rigs, nine-story power plants on 15-acre pads, and seven-story cooling towers capped by steam plumes; excavating 750,000-gallon toxic waste sumps; and crisscrossing the area with roads, high-tension transmission lines and pipelines. Trucks and drilling equipment would break the normal solitude, the groups allege.
They allege Calpine's plans to inject "highly toxic acids" into the geothermal wells to increase production would pollute groundwater and endanger Medicine Lake and the Fall Rivers trout and other wildlife.
The 45-year project would be subsidized by more than $50 million from taxpayers through the California Energy Commission, but the resulting 98 megawatts would be sold to the Bonneville Power Administration in Oregon for use outside of California, the suit objects.
The suit was filed by the Save Medicine Lake Coalition, comprised of the Medicine Lake Citizens for Quality Environment, Klamath Forest Alliance, California Wilderness Coalition and Fall River Wild Trout Foundation.
It accuses the Bureau of Land Management, which approved the leases, and the Forest Service, which has the land on which the projects sit, of violating various federal laws by granting approval. Calpine, of San Jose, also is named in the suit.
The government's environmental impact statement never properly addressed the underlying issue of whether geothermal development outweighed the benefits of maintaining the region for wildlife and human enjoyment, said the environmental groups' attorney, Stephan Volker.
The government first disapproved the Telephone Flat project in 2000, then reevaluated its decision and approved the project in November 2002 as part of a lawsuit settlement.
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