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Reno geothermal company threatens lawsuit over protected toad

RENO — A Reno-based geothermal company is threatening to sue the Biden administration over its decision last year to designate a rare toad as an endangered species.

Ormat Technologies Inc., the country’s largest geothermal power company, warned Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a letter Wednesday of an impending lawsuit if the Dixie Valley Toad remains listed as an endangered species.

“In making that listing, the Service failed to consider the best available scientific and commercial information regarding Ormat’s Dixie Valley Geothermal Project operations and the hydrogeological character of the Dixie Valley springs,” the letter reads. “Instead, the Service at every turn and without substantiation assumed the worst- case scenario and listed the toad as endangered.”

The letter, which was first obtained by the Los Angeles Times, alleges that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it listed the Dixie Valley toad as an endangered species late last year. The letter gives the agency 60 days to rescind the protections or face civil action.

The Dixie Valley toad, which was only declared to be a unique species in 2017, lives exclusively in hot springs in the Dixie Valley, approximately 2½ hours east of Reno.

The area is near the site of Ormat’s proposed geothermal plant, a project the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said could threaten the rare toad’s habitat, and consequently, its existence. The service temporarily protected the toad through an emergency listing in April after being urged on by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The project, which would produce carbon-free power by pumping hot water from deep beneath the earth, has faced several legal challenges, including from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Ormat said the company believes the designation was “misinformed” and said it is “confident” that the project poses no future risk to the toad.

“Ormat is confident that no future risk to the Toad exists from its Project. And there is no evidence of current risk justifying the listing,” the statement reads. “The Service thus violated the ESA in listing the Toad as presently endangered, relying on outdated Project information to inform its anticipated risks, overestimating the Project’s possible impacts, and omitting consideration of planned mitigation.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson with the Department of the Interior declined to comment on the possible legal action Friday.

Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the threatened action is “a waste of everybody’s time.”

“It has no merit, and I think the case law pretty clearly indicates it has no merit. This is just a stalling tactic and a way to try to wear us down,” Donnelly said. “But we’re not going to back down. We’re going to intervene in this lawsuit if it moves forward, if necessary. We believe the listing the Endangered Species Act listing was totally appropriate and justified.”

Contact Taylor R. Avery at TAvery@reviewjournal.com. Follow @travery98 on Twitter.

Ormat – ESA 60-Day Notice Letter to USFWS (23 March 2023) by Steve Sebelius on Scribd

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