SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A power plant in Contra Costa County threatens the “last sanctuary” of Lange’s metalmark butterfly, a protected species so endangered only 45 adults were left in 2006, environmentalists claim in court.
The Wild Equity Institute sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday in Federal Court, for authorizing the Gateway Generating Station in Antioch, upstream from San Francisco Bay in the Sacramento Delta.
The environmental nonprofit claims the EPA authorized the plant to emit nitrogen pollution without consulting the Fish and Wildlife Service, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The butterfly, which has been protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1976, is named for Henry Lange of UC Davis, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Its only known habitat is the Antioch Dunes, whose geographical and ecological isolation “allowed the species there to evolve into unique life forms found nowhere else on Earth,” according to the complaint.
The power plant also threatens the Antioch Dunes evening primrose and the Contra Costa wallflower, and the habitat for all three species, the institute says.
The Lange’s metalmark (Apodemia mormo langei) is a brightly colored red-orange fellow with gray, white and black spots and a wingspan of 1 to 1½ inches.
In the late 1990s, when only about 2,000 of the butterflies were left, a wildfire devastated 40 percent of its reserve, driving the population down to 450, according to the Xerces Society.
California’s Endangered Species Act does not allow insects to be listed, so the Lange’s metalmark has no protection from the states, though the California Department of Fish and Game has placed it on its “Special Animals” list.
The power plant is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric. Wild Equity says its nitrogen emissions will hurt the area’s naked-stemmed buckwheat, on which the butterfly’s survival and recovery is “entirely dependent.”
As many as 25,000 Lange’s metalmarks lived in the dunes 50 to 100 years ago, the group says, but by 2006 the numbers had plummeted to just 45 adults.
“The Lange’s metalmark butterfly is a hearty and beautiful animal,” Brent Plater, Wild Equity’s attorney, said in an email.
“If EPA, PG&E and the other power plants do their fair share, we can ensure that this unique animal is around for future generations to enjoy.”
The lawsuit calls the Antioch Dunes the butterfly’s “last sanctuary.”
The EPA could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Wild Equity wants the EPA ordered to consult on the effects of the power plant’s emissions, and “not enter into any irreversible or irretrievable commitments of resources that may preclude the implementation of reasonable and prudent alternatives” to benefit the endangered species.
Plater is a staff attorney for Wild Equity, in San Francisco.
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