Joshua Tree Landfill Victory

 

Joshua Tree National Park's Eagle Mountains conjure up images of remote desert peaks, a boundless blue sky and the namesake bird of prey that soars above pristine canyons.  But for many of us, Eagle Mountain brings to mind the ongoing battle over the proposed Eagle Mountain Landfill, to be located on lands belonging to Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc.  and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which also happens to be surrounded on three sides by Joshua Tree National Park wilderness.

The dump would be the nation’s largest; bringing in up to 20,000 tons of trash daily, 6 days a week, 16 hours a day for more than a century.  Refuse would be shipped from various communities in Southern California via rail and to a lesser extent by trucks.  The project has been promoted by Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. and the Los Angeles County Department of Sanitation as a solution for the Los Angeles area's burgeoning trash problem.

"Development of this massive landfill could devastate significant portions of the park’s wilderness with noise and light pollution of the night sky, impair desert vistas and destroy the solitude of the wilderness setting for park visitors.  It would also undermine efforts to help recovery of the threatened desert tortoise by inflating the population of predators and scavengers such as ravens that prey on the iconic species,"  says Mike Cipra, Desert Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

In 2005 Judge Robert Timlin ruled against Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. and the BLM in a suit filed by the National Parks Conservation Association and Larry and Donna Charpied to protect Joshua Tree National Park from the devastating effects of a landfill. Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. and the BLM appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which recently ruled in favor of the National Parks Conservation Association on several key points.

First, the recent decision [PDF]  states that the BLM undervalued the land it would trade with Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. to make the landfill possible.   At issue was the appraisal that was conducted for the land swap, which concluded that the "highest and best use" of the BLM land was "holding for speculative investment."  The term signified that there were no specific development plans for the property when it was common knowledge that the land would be used for the Eagle Mountain Landfill.

The court also found that the BLM’s Environmental Impact Statement did not adequately address the issue of atmospheric nitrogen enrichment resulting from landfill operations.   Nitrogen deposition from landfill operations would alter the nutrient cycles of the fragile desert ecosystem, harming plants and wildlife that call the desert home.

Finally, the court found that the BLM's Environmental Impact Purpose and Need Statement, a section that outlines project objectives, was so narrowly defined by Kaiser Eagle Mountain Inc.'s business interests that the BLM failed to consider alternatives like the possibility of developing a landfill on other Kaiser properties, assessing the impact of increased waste diversion on the need for additional landfills, and considering other offsite landfill locations that would not impair park land or threaten desert wildlife.

The ruling should cause a sigh of relief for local desert businesses that rely on tourism dollars from Joshua Tree National Park. According to the NPS Money Generation Model from Michigan State University, visitors to Joshua Tree spent more than 37 million dollars in 2008, benefiting our local desert economy.  The construction of the Eagle Mountain Landfill threatens Joshua Tree National Park's resources: resources that are directly linked to economic opportunities here in the California desert.

Although the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals put the brakes on the Eagle Mountain Landfill for now, proponents of the dump are already talking about ways to proceed with this misguided project.  They argue that the mitigation funds from the landfill would stimulate the economy and fund a variety of environmental programs including the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. However, despoiling the pristine lands of one of our nation's treasured national parks in order to provide mitigation funds for other environmental initiatives is simply poor policy, no matter how great the need. Mitigation funds don’t make a project desirable or necessary; rather, projects have to be evaluated in terms of how they will affect the environment and the public interest.

The nation’s largest landfill does not belong next to one of our national treasures.  Building a dump at Eagle Mountain is like putting a sewage treatment plant next to the Sistine Chapel. It's simply a poor location for this type of project and would irreparably harm the pristine wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park.  The time has never been better for the Department of the Interior to put an end to the Eagle Mountain Landfill once and for all, to protect Joshua Tree National Park for our children and grandchildren.

Seth Shteir is senior program coordinator at the National Parks Conservation Association in Joshua Tree, California.

Photograph of proposed landfill area by Howard Gross

High Country News Classifieds
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES DIRECTOR
    Solar Energy International (SEI) is a 501(c)3 non-profit education organization with a mission to provide industry-leading technical training and expertise in renewable energy to empower...
  • TRAINING MANAGER
    This is a full-time position based out of our Paonia office. This position is responsible for organizing all of Solar Energy International's renewable energy trainings....
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!