This article was originally published on November 7, 2016 in The Desert Sun under the title, “Closely scrutinize Eagle Crest energy project in desert.”
Protecting the Eagle Mountain Area and Joshua Tree National Park: A Two Step Process
by Maureen Finnerty
For those who love the California desert national parks and our public lands, this has been a tremendous year! On August 25, the National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday; in February, President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate the new Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails, and Castle Mountains National Monuments. And now the Department of Interior is moving swiftly to return more than 20,000 acres of the Eagle Mountain lands back to Joshua Tree National Park!
The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks is delighted with these significant conservation achievements and that the process to return the Eagle Mountain lands, which were once part of Joshua Tree National Monument but were removed by Congress in 1950 for mineral exploration, is underway. That said, we stand united in our belief that protecting Joshua Tree National Park and the Eagle Mountain region is a two part process that must also include addressing the threat of the Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project.
The return of the BLM’s Eagle Mountain lands to Joshua Tree National Park will enhance recreational opportunities for residents living in the Coachella Valley. It will also protect iconic species like the desert bighorn, golden eagle, and desert tortoise, as well as a variety of rich historical and archaeological resources from prehistoric Native American cultures, to the historic Kaiser Mine, to the Colorado River Aqueduct.
But a threat remains in the form of the Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project, which is not addressed by the land transfer. The National Park Service has stated that, “Eagle Crest’s Project threatens to adversely impact Park resources, resulting both immediate and long term negative consequences for the preservation and management of the Park.”
This is because the Eagle Crest project would be located less than two miles from Joshua Tree National Park. As such, it will disrupt a major bighorn sheep corridor, irreparably harm desert tortoise populations and habitat, and extract more than 100,000 acre feet of ancient groundwater from aquifers that have not experienced natural recharge in thousands of years.
Yes, it will manage electrical power by storing water during non-peak demand hours, and then use it to generate electricity during peak hours. But, the project will use significantly more energy than it generates, does little or nothing to help meet state greenhouse gas reduction goals, and it fundamentally harms park resources.
The Eagle Crest Project has a license to operate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently reviewing its associated transmission line. The transmission line itself would run through the BLM’s own proposed Chuckwalla Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and would harm desert tortoise populations by serving as a roost for ravens, who are known tortoise predators. It would also injure and kill migratory and resident birds as it lies under the Pacific Flyway, an avian super highway for birds.
To date, the BLM has published a very cursory environmental review that inappropriately relies on old, outdated resource data found in the project’s original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Due to the potential harm the project could cause to Joshua Tree National Park, native wildlife, groundwater and public trust resources, the BLM should conduct a full, comprehensive EIS that evaluates specific and cumulative impacts of the transmission line and its potential impacts to Joshua Tree National Park.
Maureen Finnerty is the Chair of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. Composed of over 1,100 retired, former or current salaried employees of the National Park Service, the Coalition collectively represents more than 30,000 years of national park management experience.
Link to article in The Desert Sun: http://www.desertsun.com/story/opinion/contributors/valley-voice/2016/11/07/closely-scrutinize-eagle-crest-energy-project-desert/93443638/