photo by SkinheadSportBiker1 (Flickr CC)

A fast track approach by the US government towards certain renewable energy projects has drawn lawsuits and protests from some Native American groups and environmentalists in California.

US President Barack Obama has set a goal of sourcing 80% of the country’s electricity from clean projects, but some of the projects are on lands considered sacred to Native American tribes. Environmental groups are also concerned that the projects could hard sensitive desert ecology.

Government officials claim to have consulted tribal organizations and have determined that the works, such as a massive solar energy farm in Blythe, California, will not harm historical sites or have decided some sites are not worth preserving.

Some tribal representatives believe the US government’s attitude towards sacred sites in places like Blythe is… well, blithe.

From the Associated Press:

There is this sense that there is this rush to renewable energy that’s politically motivated and when tribes are consulted their concerns aren’t being taken seriously. There’s no guarantee that once the project starts that they won’t harm something.

–Michelle Raheja, interim director of the California Center for Native Nations

The opposition to the projects among California’s tribes does not stem from an opposition to solar energy. Some archaeologists agree: there is plenty of California desert to build solar panel plants on without encroaching on land that is both sacred to its residents and of great archaeological and historical value due to the vast amount of ancient geoglyphs, drawings and village-sites.

The US government Bureau of Land Management, under whose authority the lands lie, disagree – even claiming some of the artifacts are in fact modern in origin.

77-year old Native American historian Alfredo Figueroa thinks there are better alternative locations for solar energy plants in the Southwest.

From the Guardian:

One alternative to using BLM land, he says, would be to use areas that have already been disturbed, such as farmland, abandoned military airfields or the huge testing ranges that dot the south-western deserts.

Environmentalists’ concerns are more focused on the future of the desert tortoise and the horned toad.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times.