Commentary: As a friend of the environment for over three decades, I am concerned about the possibility of a harmful addition to my desert community.
Although a new resident, having spent parts of the last four years living here and recently making a permanent move from Illinois to Joshua Tree to help care for our baby grandson, I've grown to appreciate the high desert and its spectacular public lands. At the same time, I’m understanding more about the importance of sound renewable energy policy and the devastating effects of bad decision making. Nowhere is this seen more than in the Eagle Mountain area, just south of Joshua Tree National Park, where the proposed Eagle Crest Pumped Storage Project is undergoing final review of its associated transmission line.
Like many, I value a clean, green renewable energy future: but hearing about the pumped storage project details, I couldn’t see how it had gotten this far. It would consist of two of the abandoned Kaiser Mine pits which, over the project's lifetime, would fill with over 100,000 acre feet of groundwater, pumped from the fragile Chuckwalla Aquifer. The idea is that the project will store renewable energy released during peak hours when the sun isn’t shining; but experts question its effectiveness in meeting California’s greenhouse gas reduction and storage goals as well its appropriateness for our desert environment. Annual evaporative losses for the project alone will exceed 1,500 acre-feet. When we must all be so careful about water use, how can this project even be considered?
Furthermore, it poses a grave threat to the ecological integrity of Joshua Tree National Park. Open, water-filled mine pits attract ravens and other predators that kill desert tortoises. The project would disrupt a major connective corridor for bighorn sheep traveling between the Coxcomb Mountains and the Eagle Mountains, and pump huge amounts of groundwater from an aquifer connected to a groundwater system beneath the Park.
Unfortunately, the project received a license to operate and the last project piece, and the transmission line, whose comment period recently closed, is being evaluated as a separate component by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM is under pressure to authorize the project and has completed only a very rushed Environmental Assessment using stale information and old data from the project’s gravely flawed original environmental documents. The 2014 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Eagle Crest Project Environmental Impact Study was so bad that the Environmental Protection Agency, which rates environmental documents, gave it an EO-2 rating for “Insufficient information”- a resounding thumbs down.
Besides the pumped storage project’s harmful impacts to the Park, the transmission line, which cuts through part of a newly formed BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern would pose a grave threat to desert tortoise, golden eagle and migratory and resident birds.
In this hundredth anniversary of the National Park Service, we must engage in sound decision making and protect special places like Joshua Tree National Park. I call on the BLM to conduct a full and comprehensive EIS for the Eagle Crest Transmission Line in its responsibility to ensure that Joshua Tree National Park can be protected and enjoyed by many for years to come.
Commentaries are the opinions of their authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of KCETLink. Banner: desert tortoise. Photo: USFWS