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Watchdogs: BLM quietly rerouted transmission line, favoring mining over national monument

The redirected Greenlink West transmission line is still set to run across the boundary of Tule Springs National Monument.
Amy Alonzo
Amy Alonzo

Without publicly disclosing it, federal officials pushed the planned pathway of a major NV Energy transmission line out of the way of a potential Southern Nevada mining site — drawing the consternation of conservation watchdog groups, who have previously raised concerns that the line will run through a national monument boundary.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the federal agency tasked with permitting Greenlink West, a 474-mile-long transmission line that will connect Northern Nevada to Las Vegas to create what the utility calls a “renewable energy highway” between the state’s resource-rich renewable energy zones, favors an alternative pathway that moves the transmission line roughly 3,300 feet away from its original path near Beatty at the request of AngloGold Ashanti, a Britain-based mining company. 

The decision to reroute the line was not publicly disclosed, nor did the agency open a period of public comment. Neither the BLM or NV Energy answered questions about the move before deadline. 

But a transmission line built through a valid, preexisting mine claim would need to be rerouted at a later date once construction of the mine started, according to a spokesperson for the Nevada Division of Minerals. 

The new route also pushes the transmission line’s path into restricted military airspace for the nearby Nevada Test and Training Range, according to minutes from multiple conference calls between the BLM, NV Energy and Logan Simpson, an environmental consulting firm.

However, the BLM is opting not to modify Greenlink West’s planned route through Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument (TUSK), the first national monument specifically dedicated to the preservation and scientific study of ice age fossils. Instead, the BLM’s preferred route for the project sends the line through a corner of the monument, located just north of Las Vegas, in an area where ground-penetrating radar has shown a likelihood of fossils.

The BLM bypassed alternatives supported by conservation groups including shifting the transmission line to the side of TUSK, running it along the 215 Beltway or adapting nearby existing power lines. Instead, the agency told The Nevada Independent in the summer of 2023 that diverting the line would require sending it south, then toward Pahrump, adding 70 miles and about $70 million to the cost of the project.

The BLM aims to issue a record of decision approving or disapproving the project for Greenlink West later this summer, and NV Energy estimates the project could be online as early as December of 2026.

Meanwhile, the move to accommodate the potential gold mine site — currently in the exploratory stage — does what wasn’t done for TUSK by shifting the transmission line more than several thousand feet. The cost of the shift around the planned mine is unknown, and BLM did not provide an interview in response to a May 14 email request.

The flexibility of the BLM to adapt for the potential mine but not for the national monument paints a poor picture of what the BLM prioritizes, said Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch, who obtained the minutes of the conference calls through a public records request and shared them with the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Despite requests by groups to reroute the transmission line around TUSK, the BLM chose a route that intentionally directed the transmission line through the monument.

“What is this monument worth? Does the BLM value a gold mine more than a publicly cherished national park area?” Emmerich asked in an interview with The Nevada Independent. “If the BLM can work this hard to accommodate the mining company, let’s see a similar effort to protect the monument.” 

A map of the proposed alternative that would route Greenlink West around a potential mine site near Beatty. (Courtesy of PEER)

Changes in environmental documents

Last summer, the BLM issued Greenlink West’s draft environmental impact statement for public review. The document does not mention any alternatives that would need to bypass the potential Ashanti AngloGold mining claims.

It did mention alternatives that would have bypassed monument boundaries, including moving the project 200 feet south of the TUSK boundary, using the existing location of power lines but replacing them with taller structures. 

Another option considered locating the lines along the 215 Beltway. Yet another possibility raised was federal legislation to resolve the location of a high-voltage transmission corridor named in the monument’s enabling legislation, but that was mislabeled on a map.  

Read more: Officials: Error led to routing planned transmission line through national monument

Those alternatives were ultimately not selected, with the BLM instead favoring a route that would locate 11 power-transmitting monopoles on 100 foot by 100 foot maintenance pads inside the monument’s border by about 5 feet, with an additional 50-foot right-of-way for monitoring and maintenance.

The BLM is poised to issue its final environmental impact statement next month, and, according to the documents procured by Emmerich through his records request, it includes a new alternative that bypasses an area east of Beatty that Ashanti AngloGold is exploring for gold. 

Ashanti AngloGold has projects in North and South America, Africa and Australia. The company’s website describes the Beatty project as a “greenfield development” — one that will require substantial exploration before the project is shovel ready. It is currently in the prefeasibility study stage to determine whether the region’s mineral reserves are economically viable and how to best extract them. The company is exploring other sites in the region that it estimates will, when combined, produce 8 million ounces of gold. 

“We received public comments from Ashanti AngloGold regarding their potential mining activities in the future,” BLM Project Manager Brian Buttazoni wrote in a May 8 email to Emmerich that was shared with PEER and The Nevada Independent. “It was one factor why we developed [the alternative that reroutes the project around the potential mine site].”  

But with the alternative added after the public comment period closed, nobody was able to weigh in on the new alternative, and most involved parties aren’t even aware of it, Emmerich said.

“BLM has not been super transparent,” said Chandra Rosenthal, legal counsel at PEER, the nonprofit that investigates complaints by federal, state and local employees about internal environmental ethics violations.

Sherri Grotheer, president of Protectors of Tule Springs, said she is on a federal mailing list to receive updates on the Greenlink project, but she never received a notification about the new alternative. 

The group was founded to protect some of the last undeveloped portions of the Upper Las Vegas Wash, including TUSK, after the wash was at one time considered the region’s disposal area.

Part of that protection was pushing for the establishment of TUSK, which was dedicated as the 405th unit of the National Park Service in 2014. Although the formation of the monument protected the site’s resources from housing and commercial development, they are now threatened by Greenlink West, Grotheer said. 

“It is frustrating that somehow routing around a potential mine site for the benefit of private industry is more important to them than protecting publicly owned assets,” Grotheer told The Nevada Independent. “It feels like they are giving a higher weight to private companies' concerns than the people of Nevada and really, the nation.” 

A spokesperson for Nellis Air Force Base also opposed the new alternative, stating during the conference calls that it would be within the restricted air space for the Nevada Test and Training Range, one of Nellis’ two Nevada military training areas. 

High-tension power lines pass near Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument on Monday, July 17, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Complaints from within

The U.S. needs to increase its electricity transmission capacity by 64 percent by 2035 to meet a future with high clean energy growth, according to a 2023 report by the U.S. Department of Energy, and increase its transfer capacity by 114 percent. 

NV Energy announced plans for the $2 billion Greenlink project in 2020, touting it as a way to address needed capacity in rapidly growing Northern Nevada and to comply with higher renewable energy mandates.

NV Energy did not fulfill a request for an interview from The Nevada Independent, deferring questions to the BLM. 

If built, the Greenlink West project will span across Clark, Esmeralda, Lyon, Mineral, Nye and Storey counties, while its companion project, Greenlink North, will run 232 miles through White Pine, Eureka, Lander, Churchill and Lyon counties. Combined, the Greenlink projects are forecast to “unlock” up to 8 gigawatts of renewable energy, according to the federal government.

Rosenthal is not aware of complaints about Greenlink North, but the watchdog group has received multiple complaints about the Greenlink West project, she said.

“More than one [federal] employee has to come to us on this,” she said.  


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