Burning Man sues federal government over geothermal project

Burning Man sues federal government over geothermal project

The Burning Man festival filed a lawsuit Monday against the US government in an effort to reverse the approval of a “green” exploration project in the Black Rock Desert roughly 120 miles north of Reno.

A private company was given exploratory drilling rights in the Black Rock National Conservation Area where festival-goers, known as “burners,” hold their yearly rave and tech bro utopia. The move by the Bureau of Land Management caused Burning Man and other groups to file suit.

Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Friends of Black Rock/High Rock Inc. and two local residents argue in court papers that the geothermal drilling by Ormat Nevada Inc. could forever change the area.

“Ormat’s exploration project will lay the foundation for turning a unique, virtually pristine ecosystem of environmental, historical and cultural significance into an industrial zone, and permanently alter the landscape,” the lawsuit says.

The legal action argues that Ormat tried to get around an analysis of the possible adverse effects that geothermal power plants could have on the environment. By segmenting the project, the company limits the federal agency review to only the first stage of the exploration.

Burning Man participants walk through dust at the annual Burning Man event on the Black Rock Desert of Gerlach, Nev., on Aug. 29, 2014.
The event takes place in the Black Rock Desert annually.

“However, this first stage merely confirms where the resources are located to inform future industrial scale geothermal energy development,” the suit said. “Once the exploration project begins, it will be impossible to stop the effects of the entire geothermal production project.”

Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen said the lawsuit is meritless while slamming Burning Man for emitting fossil fuels each year.

The "Man" burns on the Black Rock Desert at Burning Man near Gerlach, Nev., on Aug. 31, 2013.
The Burning Man Project filed a lawsuit this week against the federal government.

He said the company looks forward to “continuing its contribution to Nevada’s green energy, zero emissions future, which will offset some of the copious amounts of fossil fuels the Burning Man Project annually emits in the Black Rock Desert.”

About 70,000 attendees – some aging hippies and Silicon Valley execs and others curiosity seekers – attend the annual psychedelic celebration of art, music and even sometimes anarchy itself as they circle around banging drums and pagan fire rituals.

The lawsuit argues the exploration could forever change the landscape.
The lawsuit argues the exploration could forever change the landscape.

“The ethos and culture of the event are rooted in Ten Principles of Burning Man,” that includes “radical inclusion,” gifting, self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility and “Leaving No Trace,” the lawsuit says.

Adam Belsky, Burning Man Project’s general counsel, said the group pulled the legal trigger to ensure “impacts from the proposed projects are minimized.”

“And that Ormat is a good corporate citizen in this environmentally sensitive, economically vulnerable area of northern Nevada,” he said.

A rep for the Bureau of Land Management had no comment. 

With Post wires

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