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In a major win for conservation groups, the California State Legislature has passed historic energy procurement legislation (Assembly Bill 1373) that firmly opposes the contentious Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Energy Project proposed near Joshua Tree National Park.

The legislation, backed by the Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom, establishes the state as the central purchaser of energy from projects looking to supply electricity in California. Notably, the bill specifically precludes the Eagle Crest project from state purchase – marking the ninth time since 2017 that lawmakers have blocked similar proposals where ratepayers would finance development of the controversial, multi-billion dollar project.

The project has faced staunch resistance from a diverse coalition because it would impose unnecessary costs on ratepayers and cause irreversible damage to fragile desert waters, wildlife, and lands.

Surrounded on three sides by the beloved national park in the Eagle Mountain region, the project threatens to drain precious groundwater resources that are already overdrawn. Conservation groups warn it would also harm vulnerable desert species like bighorn sheep that rely on the scarce water.

“This reckless development would drain the desert. It could permanently change the greater Joshua Tree landscape,” said Chris Clarke, Ruth Hammett Associate Director of the California Desert Program at the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “We’re relieved to see the governor and legislature taking proactive steps to protect the park and ratepayers from the Eagle Crest fiasco.”

Joshua Tree National Park is a globally treasured destination, famed for its wide-open vistas marked by the park’s namesake trees, along with yucca, rare rock outcroppings, and boundless outdoor recreation opportunities.

As part of its steadfast commitment to safeguarding the greater Joshua Tree landscape, NPCA filed a lawsuit on September 8 against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for failing to adequately evaluate the environmental impacts of the Eagle Crest project under the Trump administration.

Over its 50-year operational lifespan, the project would extract 35 billion gallons of water from the fragile desert aquifer beneath the park – far exceeding the natural rate at which water is replenished. Despite alarms raised by the National Park Service that the planned water usage would lead to “damaging overdraft conditions,” the BLM granted Eagle Crest Energy Company a right-of-way to construct a water pipeline and transmission line.

In its complaint, NPCA contends the BLM did not properly examine the environmental consequences of the project, as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

The Eagle Mountain area was once part of Joshua Tree National Park until it was removed from the park’s boundaries in the 1940s for private mining interests. NPCA and other groups previously defeated a proposal to transform the mining claims into a massive landfill, and have since worked to restore the land to the park. Doing so would extend protections for the region’s invaluable natural resources, wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities.

NPCA and its partners are united in halting additional harmful development in this fragile landscape. They aim to guarantee federal and state agencies fully comply with environmental laws.

NPCA is represented in the lawsuit by the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School’s Mills Legal Clinic.

Cover photo courtesy of: Ed Dunens

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