The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks along with the National Parks Conservation Association, the Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club have submitted an appeal to the Interior Board of Land Appeals for the August 1, 2018 Decision issued by the California State Office, Bureau of Land Management which granted a right of way for a electrical transmission line and water pipeline – including amending the California Desert Conservation Area Plan – associated with the Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project.
The Coalition and partner organizations have also appealed the BLM’s Final Environmental Assessment and its associated Finding of No Significant Impact. The FONSI grants rights of way to a 16-mile transmission line connecting the project to an electrical substation and to a buried water supply pipeline and wells that would pump water from the upper Chuckwalla Valley’s ancient groundwater aquifer to fill – and consistently resupply – pump storage reservoirs that would be established in the former mine pits at the project site. These reservoirs – if established in one of the most arid regions in the United States – would significantly alter the ecology of the region, by serving as propagules for numerous invasive, noxious and predatory species. Furthermore, the right of way would be constructed on over 800 acres of federal public land, much of it previously untrammeled, and across important wildlife habitat and migratory routes as well as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The Decision would also amend the BLM’s land use plan which outlines protections for the California Desert Conservation Area, which restricts locations in this region that might be opened to development and protects sensitive habitats.
Most importantly, these projects would affect federally owned public lands adjacent to Joshua Tree National Park that were once part of the park when it was originally designated as a national monument in 1936, and that the National Park Service still finds “suitable” for addition to the park. The Coalition firmly asserts that the BLM Decision would cause immediate harm to this part of the Mojave desert that has been proposed for conservation for more than three decades. If construction starts in the granted right-of-way, the associated lands would be permanently altered and the public would be irreparably harmed.
Finally, we’ve also petitioned for a stay of the Decision during the IBLA’s consideration of this appeal. In our view, a stay is well-justified in this case because the Decision and Environmental Assessment violate the National Environmental Policy Act in multiple ways, and is inconsistent with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.