Commentary: The California desert has always been a target for speculators looking for quick profit, from miners to real estate developers. The latest one, unfortunately, is our President.
The Trump Administration earlier this year exempted a destructive groundwater pumping project in the Mojave Desert from federal review. The Los Angeles-based developer Cadiz, which for decades has unsuccessfully attempted to mine water from the desert, has sought to avoid the same federal review that dashed its hopes in 2002. Cadiz has been given a boost by the Trump Administration, and has seemingly been further advantaged by the appointment of David Bernhardt as Deputy Interior Secretary. Bernhardt was the principal at Cadiz’s chief lobbying firm; that and the stock his company owns in Cadiz became the most significant conflicts of interest raised by many Democratic Senators, including our own Senator Harris, during his confirmation hearing.
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For over a decade Mel Levine worked to protect the California desert from exactly these types of predators. In 1986, while serving in Congress, he introduced legislation, eventually passed by Senator Diane Feinstein, that created Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and Mojave National Preserve, as well as 3 million acres of Wilderness areas. These parks, just hours away from Los Angeles, are a place for Angelenos to experience nature.
They’re also a huge economic driver of our regional tourism economy, with 3,700 jobs supported in 2016 alone by visits to our three desert National Parks, according to the National Park Service.
The time to defend these natural treasures is now. The California legislature must pass the California Desert Protection Act, Assembly Bill 1000, to protect the water, wildlife, and cultural resources of the stunning California Desert. The bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, is needed to push back on the Trump Administration, which is undermining our bedrock environmental laws, our public lands policy, and astoundingly — despite their universal popularity — our cherished National Monuments.
In Sacramento on September 1, the State Senate Appropriations committee had the opportunity to move AB 1000 to the Senate floor for a vote. Unfortunately, AB 1000 did not make it out of committee and is set to expire, which came as a surprise to all of us who support this legislation. Governor Brown supports AB 1000, calling the bill “common sense” and “good policy.” He is joined by Lt. Governor Newsom, Senator Feinstein, the California Democratic Party, LADWP, the environmental community, and thousands of activists, other groups, and businesses across the state.
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This large coalition has coalesced not just in support for protecting the desert, but also in response to the enormous scientific concerns surrounding Cadiz. Two federal science agencies, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, have expressed concern over the accuracy of Cadiz’s scientific claims. Should Cadiz be allowed to move forward without the required federal review that was waived by Donald Trump, the project will damage desert springs and wetlands sacred to Native people, and vital for desert wildlife. Cadiz is also at the center of the controversy over the President’s review of National Monuments. Mojave Trails National Monument is a 1.6-million-acre wonderland that protects dune systems, volcanic fields, mountain ranges, cactus gardens, desert tortoises, desert bighorn sheep, and mountain lions. Congressman Paul Cook has requested that Mojave Trails be reduced by half a million acres. The area he asked to be removed from the monument is needed for Cadiz to pump groundwater.
Californians have worked for generations to protect the wild lands of our beautiful state, including our vast, beautiful deserts. AB 1000 would require that water extraction projects in the wild Mojave undergo state agency review to ensure the projects do not harm the natural or cultural resources of the region. That’s why Fran Pavley, past chair of the Senate’s Policy Committee on Natural Resources and Water, and author of the Californian Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, joins other elected officials in support of AB 1000.
There is still time for our leaders in Sacramento to support and pass AB 1000. It is a crucial tool the State can use to resist the Trump Administration’s deregulation of environmental laws. Cadiz, which has benefitted immensely from that deregulation, is the first test of California’s will to stand up to Trump to defend our public lands. Kevin DeLeon and Senate leadership have committed to protect us from harms done by the Trump administration. We still have an opportunity to do so through AB 1000. We urge readers to call their State Senators and ask them to pass AB 1000.