We’re happy to report the Medicine Lake Highlands case was victorious at US District Court on April 19! Judge Mendez ruled that BLM unlawfully extended the 26 leases for up to 40 years under the Geothermal Steam Act. The court asked BLM to issue a remedy for the ruling within the next 30 days, to which our lawyers will be responding with further briefings. So the case will likely continue through the month of June.
The court declined to rule on our other arguments, which remain open to further litigation should BLM attempt to proceed with new lease extensions.
PRESS RELEASE – April 25, 2016
FAVORABLE COURT RULING ON MEDICINE LAKE HIGHLANDS GEOTHERMAL CASE
On April 19 in Sacramento, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez granted a motion for summary judgment filed by a coalition of Native American and environmental groups, ruling that in 1998, the BLM unlawfully extended 26 geothermal leases in the Medicine Lake Highlands without environmental review or consultations with Native Americans. The tribal and environmental plaintiffs were represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic. Student attorneys worked on and argued the case under clinic director Deborah Sivas’ experienced guidance.
The leases, currently held by Calpine Corporation, were awarded in the 1980s to be developed for industrial energy production. Plaintiffs have been challenging geothermal development in the Medicine Lake Highlands since 1996, and were victorious in a Ninth Circuit Court case in 2008 in which similar 40-year extensions for two leases were denied. The Native American and environmental plaintiffs claim that industrialization would desecrate and pollute this sensitive area and pose unacceptable risks to California’s largest fresh water aquifer. The Medicine Lake Highlands area, located 30 miles northeast of Mount Shasta, was designated in 1999 and 2005 as a Native American Traditional Cultural District eligible for the National Register of Historic places.
The Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center and Medicine Lake Citizens for Quality Environment have worked for almost 20 years along side the Pit River Tribe and Native Coalition for Medicine Lake Highlands Defense. In 2014, a hydrogeologic study commissioned by the environmental groups showed that the Medicine Lake Highlands constitute a huge water system for California, storing 20 to 40 million acre-feet, nearly as much as the state’s top 200 reservoirs. The study by U.C. Santa Cruz professor emeritus Dr. Robert Curry indicates that the water is stored for decades, forming a buffer against drought and releasing over 1 million acre-feet annually through the Fall River Springs, the state’s largest spring system.
Before the hearing, tribal members and their allies rallied on the courthouse steps to show support for the protection of sacred sites and pristine waters. During the hearing, the public galleries of the courtroom were filled with tribal and environmental attendees, as well as some government and corporate representatives.
However, the April 19 ruling will likely not be the end of the story. The court asked BLM to issue a remedy for the ruling, and set a schedule for briefing on the remedy that extends through June 2016. The court declined to rule on the plaintiffs’ other claims, which remain open to further litigation should BLM attempt to proceed with new lease extensions.