A legal court challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision on Nebraska Public Power District's (NPPD) R-Project route was filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, by several Petitioners. All of the Petitioners' injuries result directly from the Service's decision to approve an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for the R-Project in the absence of full compliance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA), National Environmental policy Act (NEPA), and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).
The Nebraska Public Power District’s R-Project is a 225-mile long, 345-kilovolt transmission line that will cross high-quality migratory bird habitats, including rivers, wetlands, and meadows in the Nebraska Sand Hills region. NPPD claims this project is needed to enhance the reliability of their electric transmission system, relieve congestion from existing lines, and provide opportunities for development of renewable energy projects, including wind power.
The project will negatively impact, and set the stage for development within habitat for the endangered American Burying Beetle, Whooping Cranes, and other migratory and sensitive species, which are diverse and abundant along certain areas of the approved R-Project route, said a press release from the petitioners who filed the lawsuit.
"This route was picked as the cheapest for NPPD. But it is the most expensive for the health of humans and destructive to our natural habitat," the press release reads.
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The Endangered Species Act prohibits “take” of a listed species. This means that under the Act, the Service can issue permits for the "incidental take" of endangered and threatened species if the applicant designs and implements a comprehensive habitat conservation plan that both minimizes and mitigates harm to the impacted species during the proposed project. As a result, NPPD prepared a habitat conservation plan for the American burying beetle, as well as a migratory bird conservation plan to ensure the potential impacts to birds like whooping cranes and bald eagles would be minimized.
In the habitat conservation plan for the American burying beetle, NPPD proposes to inadequately offset potential take of the beetle by setting aside 600 acres of suitable habitat for protection and management, the press release said. However, the Service and NPPD refused to include the Whooping Crane or other ESA-listed birds in the area as covered species in the ITP and habitat conservation plan. Despite several meetings with the applicant, the Service's own biologists (as well as external Whooping Crane experts) remain concerned about the R-project route and the effects it will have on federal trust species including federally listed threatened and endangered species, migratory birds, including the Bald and Golden Eagles.
Western Nebraska Resources Council is challenging this route decision in court - partly because the Fish & Wildlife's own biologists admit it is the most ecologically destructive route for this project. The Nebraska Sand Hill region is referred to as "the most important biologically intact focal area within the Great Plains." Of concern to WNRC is climate disruption. Science dictates that curtailing fragmenting of the few intact native systems left is the best defense to counter the negative effects of climate disruption, WNRC said in the press release.
"This R-Project with its accompanying plans can only escalate the downward cascade of sensitive, rare and migratory species within the Great Plains," the press release reads.