Burning Man is suing the Biden government over geothermal project


A bagpipe player and a belly dancer on stilts, participants of the “Burning Man” festival, traverse part of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

Michael Nelson | AFP | Getty Images

Organizers of the Burning Man arts and culture festival and several environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the agency’s approval of a geothermal exploration project in northwestern Nevada.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Nevada federal court, alleged that in 2022 the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws when it failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of an exploration plan by developer Ormat.

The lawsuit alleges that the agency conducted a limited environmental study that only considered the impact of the project on Gerlach. The town has only about 100 inhabitants, but serves as a gateway to the festival, which attracts 70,000 people each year.

Burning Man, which owns or operates more than 4,000 acres in the area, argued that the BLM’s approval for Ormat to develop 19 geothermal drilling exploration wells and build 2.8 miles (4.5 km) of roads ignored multiple potential environmental harms.

The festival argued that the eventual geothermal development would deplete the natural hot springs immediately adjacent to the project site in a desert area “that otherwise lacks water resources”.

The Biden administration announced a goal last year to expand the use of geothermal energy — renewable energy that comes from water heated within the Earth — to help the country transition from fossil fuels that warm the planet. The Department of Energy has said it plans to reduce the cost of geothermal energy systems by 90% by 2035.

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