July 21, 2015

Drinker Biddle Wins Summary Judgment for NextEra in Billion-Dollar Solar Project Litigation

A team of Drinker Biddle litigators from the Los Angeles office obtained summary judgment against a federally recognized Tribe in a National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) case seeking to enjoin a billion-dollar solar project in Blythe, California. 

The team, which included George Caplan, Kris Davis, Paul Gelb and Erin McCracken, represented NextEra Blythe Solar Energy Center, LLC in the litigation, the owner and developer of the 485-megawatt solar project, stretching across 4,138 acres of public land.

The Plaintiff Colorado River Indian Tribes alleged that they have a religious and cultural relationship to the project site in Riverside County because their ancestors used the trails crossing the area and because burial grounds, grindstones, hammerstones and petroglyphs have been found in the site's vicinity.  The Tribes sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in December 2014 to overturn the agencies’ approvals for the development of the project.

In granting summary judgment to the government and NextEra, the judge said that the 2010 “programmatic agreement” between the BLM and the Tribes already provided for adequate consultation by allowing the tribes to be involved in identifying, managing and reporting culturally significant properties. The agreement also mandated the BLM to carefully consider the impact on the Tribes' culture by identifying and mitigating adverse effects on historic properties and developing procedures for handling newly discovered artifacts, the judge said.

Click here to read more in Law360.

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