Joshua Tree National Park - Changing weather can make for some stunning photographs.
Credit: NPS / Jesmira Bonoan
NPCA: The Eagle Crest project would threaten the national park, wildlife, and desert water sources.
September 19, 2023 - Joshua Tree, CA – The California State Legislature has advanced historic energy procurement legislation (AB 1373) that takes a strong stance against the contentious Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Energy Project proposed near Joshua Tree National Park.
The legislation, with support from the California State Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom, allows the State to serve as a central purchaser of energy from projects looking to supply electricity in California. The legislation categorically excludes the Eagle Crest project from State purchase, marking the ninth time since 2017 that the Legislature has stopped a similar proposal in which ratepayers would finance the development of the controversial, multi-billion-dollar project. The project has faced stiff opposition from a diverse coalition because it would saddle ratepayers with billions in unnecessary costs and inflict irreparable harm on desert waters, wildlife, and lands.
The proposed project is surrounded on three sides by Joshua Tree National Park in the Eagle Mountain region. The project threatens to endanger precious and already-overdrawn groundwater resources and harm fragile desert wildlife like bighorn sheep.
“This reckless development would drain the desert. It could permanently alter the greater Joshua Tree landscape,” said Chris Clarke, Ruth Hammett Associate Director of the National Parks Conservation Association’s California Desert Program. “We’re relieved to see the governor and the legislature taking proactive steps to protect the park and ratepayers from the Eagle Crest fiasco.”
Joshua Tree National Park is a world-renowned region, characterized by wide-open vistas marked by iconic Joshua trees, yucca, rare rock formations, and outdoor recreation. As part of NPCA’s ongoing commitment to protecting the greater Joshua Tree landscape, NPCA filed a lawsuit on September 8 against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for its failure to conduct adequate environmental review of the Eagle Crest project under the Trump administration.
Over its 50-year lifetime, the project’s operation would extract 35 billion gallons of water from the delicate desert aquifer beneath the park, far outpacing the rate of recharge. The National Park Service expressed alarm that the BLM did not incorporate recent scientific information that “suggests that the planned withdraw rate would cause damaging overdraft conditions.” Nonetheless, the BLM granted a right-of-way to Eagle Crest Energy Company to clear the path for construction of a water pipeline and transmission line.
In its complaint, NPCA alleges that the BLM failed to adequately review the environmental impacts of the project, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
Historically, the Eagle Mountain region was once a part of Joshua Tree National Park until it was removed from the park boundary in the 1940s for private mining interests. NPCA and advocates across the region defeated a subsequent proposal to convert the mining claims into a massive landfill, and have worked since to restore the original park boundary. Doing so would extend protections for the area’s critical resources, wildlife habitat, and opportunities for outdoor recreation.
NPCA and its allies are committed to stopping further harmful and unwise development of this landscape and ensuring that federal and state agencies comply fully with their legal obligations.
NPCA is represented by the Environmental Law Clinic, Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School.
About the National Parks Conservation Association: Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its more than 1.6 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.