• Steve Brown

National Parks Conservation Association files suit to protect the Mojave

The NPCA has filed suit against the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management to challenge policy changes that threaten Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Trails National Monument, desert wildlife, and scarce water resources in the region.

On Tuesday, April 3, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) filed a lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia against leadership in the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The NPCA's suit alleges that soon after taking office, the Trump administration abruptly changed policy and procedures to allow uses of railroad rights-of-way that can threaten important resources in the Mojave Desert, including national parks and national monuments, without federal environmental review or authorization.

The NPCA pointed to the Cadiz, Inc. water mining project, near Amboy, surrounded by the new Mojave Trails National Monument, not far from historic Route 66. The Trump administration has made the Cadiz water mining project an "infrastructure priority," and the NPCA alleges that Interior's new policy has illegally green-lighted the construction and operation of a pipeline across federal lands without a permit or environmental review. The Cadiz water mining project threatens seeps and springs that wildlife rely upon in the eastern Mojave, including in the Mojave Trails National Monument and the Mojave National Preserve.

“National Parks Conservation Association has fought the ill-advised Cadiz Inc. proposal for two decades, and we won’t let up now. As the Trump Administration attempts to advance this proposal, our resolve is only strengthened to continue to defend our national parks and public lands,” said Theresa Pierno, President and CEO of National Parks Conservation Association. “The Department of Interior has silenced science by illegally blocking federal environmental review of this harmful California desert project. Since the Interior Department has disregarded its obligation to protect California’s groundwater and iconic national parks and the tourism economies they support, we must step in and defend these fragile, special places.”

The NPCA lawsuit challenges the Interior Solicitor's Opinion of 2017 which removed federal oversight of projects using certain railroad rights-of-way, allowing develT pers to evade required federal review for projects that may impact national parks and other public lands. The NPCA alleges this is an illegal action which has blocked scientists from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey from reviewing and regulating the Cadiz water mining project as required by law. The NPCA notes that federal scientists previously found that the Cadiz water mining project would extract up to 25 times more groundwater than is naturally recharged, severely damaging the scant water resources throughout the Mojave Desert.

The NPCA lawsuit also challenges the BLM's application of this new policy, through a 2017 determination that the construction and operation of a 43 mile long water pipeline within the Mojave Trails National Monument may proceed without a Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) permit. The administration's new position also enables projects such as the Cadiz water mining project, to avoid federal environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The NPCA noted that even prior to taking office, the Trump administration's transition team decided to fast track the Cadiz water mining project which plans to pump 16 billion gallons of water annually for 50 years, from precious Mojave Desert aquifers, with no chance of those aquifers being recharged at the rate of removal. The Cadiz water mining project was listed on the Trump transition team's "Emergency & National Security" infrastructure priority list, despite the fact it has no relation to any discernible emergency or national security.

“We are fighting the Trump administration’s decisions on behalf of our 1.3 million members and supporters and the community members, tribes and all who do not want to see these reckless actions harm Mojave National Preserve and California’s largest national monument, Mojave Trails,” said Pierno.

Designated as a national monument in 2016 by President Obama, Mojave Trails has faced a legally questionable review of its designation under the Trump administration. In addition, Rep. Paul Cook of California's 8th Congressional District has previously noted he was in favor of cutting approximately half a million acres from the national monument. Some desert residents had theorized his sought reduction in size for Mojave Trails was to help the Cadiz water mining project with construction of its pipeline, the belief being it would be easier to approve a pipeline across BLM managed lands than across a national monument.

The NPCA is represented in its federal lawsuit by the U.C. Irvine Environmental Law Clinic.

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