Burning Man sues Biden administration over geothermal project

Environment

A bagpipe player and a belly dancer on stilts, participants in the “Burning Man” festival, cross a section of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.
Mike Nelson | AFP | Getty Images

Organizers of the art and cultural festival Burning Man and several environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the agency’s approval of a geothermal exploration project in northwestern Nevada.

The suit, filed in Nevada federal court on Monday, alleged that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws in 2022 when it failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of an exploration plan by the developer Ormat.

The suit alleges that the agency conducted a limited environmental review that only took into account the project’s impacts on Gerlach. The town only has a population of about 100 people, but serves as a gateway to the festival, which attracts 70,000 people each year.

Burning Man, which owns or operates over 4,000 acres in the area, argued that the BLM’s approval for Ormat to develop 19 geothermal drilling exploration wells and build 2.8 miles of roads ignored multiple potential environmental harms.

The festival argued that final geothermal development would deplete the natural hot springs directly adjacent to the project site in a desert area “that otherwise does not have water abundance.”

The Biden administration last year announced a goal to expand the use of geothermal energy — renewable energy that comes from water heated inside the Earth — in order to aid the country’s transition away from planet-warming fossil fuels. The Energy Department has said it plans to curb the costs of geothermal energy systems by 90% by 2035.

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