(CN) – A plan to drill for minerals on the Nevada-based Te-Moak Indians’ ancestral land should not have been adopted by government agencies because the impact on the land is uncertain, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Cortez Gold Mines’ proposed amendment to an already approved plan to drill for minerals on the land should not have been approved by the Bureau of Land Management and other government agencies, a three-judge panel ruled in reversing a lower court’s decision in favor of the amendment.
The amendment sought to add 200 acres to an already approved 50-acre drilling area.
The lower court ruled that the proposed amendment complied with federal law and did not have the potential to violate the Indians’ religious and cultural rights, or to jeopardize the land.
Indians and environmental groups supporting preservation of the area appealed, arguing that the mining company, the bureau and other government agencies had accepted the proposed amendment without taking a “hard look” at the potential impact drilling and scouring could have.
Some of the land has been a burial ground for the tribes for generations and is the site of numerous religious and cultural ceremonies.
“Mount Tenabo, located within the project area, is considered a traditional locus of power and source of life for the Western Shoshone, and [home to] figures in creation stories and world renewal,” the ruling says.
The San Francisco-based appeals panel reversed the district court’s ruling on the Indian’s lack of sufficient environmental impact analysis claim, and ruled instead that the bureau had failed to examine the impacts of not only the amendment but also the already approved original plan.
“Plaintiffs more than carry their burden by demonstrating that both the Amendment and the Pediment/Cortez Hills project will directly impact the same resources within the cumulative effects area, and thus have the potential for cumulative impacts.” Judge Richard Paez wrote.