Week in review: April 7

Trump helps controversial water project in Mojave; EPA cuts; DAPL doubts.


Roadblock cleared for controversial Mojave Desert groundwater project
Under former President Barack Obama, federal directives were a major obstacle to Cadiz Inc.’s long-standing plans to pump Mojave Desert groundwater and sell it to urban Southern California. But in a March 29 memo, the Bureau of Land Management revoked two legal guidances that underpinned the agency’s 2015 decision that Cadiz could not use an existing federal railroad right-of-way for a new water pipeline to carry supplies from the project’s proposed well field to the Colorado River Aqueduct, according to a story by the LA Times.

The Mojave Desert during a flight from the Grand Canyon.

We’ve followed this story for a long time. Under a proposed 50-year contract with Cadiz, Southern California would pipe its share of Colorado River water from the aqueduct into the aquifers under Cadiz’s holdings and would also purchase about 1.5 million acre-feet of native groundwater during the project. At the crux of the fight: Environmentalists say if the Cadiz project lowers water levels, the result will be dust storms and threats to desert wildlife on these protected lands. For background on the project, read our helpful explainer; for a deeper dive, see our feature story from 2013.

Senators criticize Trump’s handling of DAPL
On April 3, Senators Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Tom Carper, D-Delaware, sent a pointed letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, questioning the transparency of the Trump administration’s handling of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The letter comes after President Donald Trump signed an executive order in January to allow the controversial pipeline to be immediately finished, in contradiction to recommendations from the former Interior solicitor, Hilary Tompkins, in December. Read our recent interview with Tompkins.

The senators’ letter asks for emails and communications between the Corps, Trump administration officials and the pipeline company dated between November 2016 and January 2017, and includes several targeted questions about the government’s decision process and oversight: “Did the Corps Review the Obama Administration’s order for additional environmental impact studies? … why or why not?” The senators ask for a response from the Trump administration by April 12. Read our ongoing DAPL coverage.

Department of Leaky Agencies
A leaked memo from Administrator Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency asked agency offices to identify additional regulations to repeal. It’s the most recent action that aims to change the way the EPA regulates pollution. Read more of our coverage on the EPA and the changing regulatory system, and this story on the Anne Gorusch roadmap for undoing the agency. But does a weaker EPA mean a dirtier environment? It’s not that simple. For more context, Kate Schimel, Deputy Editor, digital, recommends this interesting analysis by FiveThirtyEight.

Filibuster goes bust
This week, we’ve been keeping a close eye on the bitter Supreme Court fight over Trump’s Neil Gorsuch nomination. The Senate confirmed Gorsuch to the Supreme Court Friday morning, after changing congressional rules to allow confirmation with a simple majority. Stay tuned for our upcoming coverage.

This week, we noticed a striking change to the webpage of the BLM. At least they’re honest about their priorities, right?

HCN contributing editor Jonathan Thompson shares some insight: