Newsletter Archive

Lithium solar evaporation ponds (see Item 3), Silver Peak, Nevada                                                                      (Mike Painter)

March 30, 2019

Dear CalUWild friends—

The big news this month, though not unexpected, was that the public lands bill passed in February was signed into law. That means a large swath of new wilderness in Utah, California, and other states; more miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers; and permanent authorization for the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), among other things. Of course, with this administration, nothing is ever simple. Interior Secretary-nominee David Bernhardt tried to take credit for parts of the bill that the department had opposed, and just the day before, the administration’s budget was released. They proposed absolutely no funding for the LWCF and actually tried to take back funds that Congress has already appropriated. Funding for many aspects of the Park Service was cut, some of which would result in laying off more than 300 rangers.

Fortunately, the response from Congress was that the budget was DOA—dead on arrival. This just shows again how important it is for us who value our public lands to establish good relationships with our elected representatives in Washington and to let them know that we want our natural inheritance protected.

Other good news came this month when a federal judge blocked BLM oil & gas leases in Wyoming for failure to consider their effect on greenhouse gases when preparing its environmental analyses. We hope this will set a precedent for other areas around the West. Also, last month we mentioned an article regarding a bill to protect the Ruby Mountains in Nevada. This month, the Forest Service as decided not to allow leasing there. Here’s an article in the Las Vegas Sun: Forest Service: Mountains around Elko not suitable for oil, gas leasing.

As announced last month, we’ve started an online California Congressional Information Sheet, with DC office phone numbers for all California senators and representatives, as well as updated information on their cosponsorship status on important bills. Please bookmark it!

Best wishes,

1.   House Natural Resources Oversight Hearing
           (ACTION ITEM)
2.   Cosponsorship Update
          (ACTION ITEM)

3.   BLM Releases Environmental Assessment on Proposed
          Lithium Mining Exploration in Panamint Valley
          Comments Needed
          DEADLINE: April 15
          (ACTION ITEM)
4.   California Native Plant Society Announces 2 Internships

5.   Links to Articles and Other Items of Interest


1.   House Natural Resources Oversight Hearing
          (ACTION ITEM)

In the middle of the month, the House Committee on Natural Resources held an oversight hearing, investigating the process behind the monument review that the administration undertook in 2017. Much of the testimony exposed the review for the sham that was suspected all along.

Witnesses at the hearing included the Utah State BLM Director and several representatives from the Inter-Tribal Coalition, as well as local government officials, business owners, and conservation organizations.

Three California members of the Committee asked very forceful questions on various topics.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-2) questioned BLM State Director Ed Roberson about statements made during a review by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). A mapping specialist told the OIG that he had been ordered to draw new boundaries for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to specifically exclude areas with significant coal deposits, as well as areas with paleontological resources. In addition, he was told that the resulting monument could be no larger than 1 million acres.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-47) questioned Mr. Roberson on planning for fossil fuels in the monuments. Mr. Robeson said there is no planning for fossil fuels within the new monument boundaries, though there may be planning for areas removed from the monuments that aren’t wilderness study areas or that have other special designations. He also asked questions about the planned protections for tribal cultural resources on lands eliminated from the monuments, and costs associated with the various plans.

Rep. Mike Levin (D-40), freshman representative from Orange and San Diego Counties, asked Mr. Roberson about reports that Energy Fuels Resources, a uranium mining and milling company, lobbied the department before the monuments review publicly began. The lobbyist for the company at the time was Andrew Wheeler, who now heads the EPA. “So much for draining the swamp,” said Mr. Levin. Mr. Roberson answered that he was unaware of those reports.

Rep. Levin contrasted that with the actions of the Interior Department regarding Native American members of the Inter-Tribal Coalition, whose interests were directly impacted by the review and shrinkage. They were offered a meeting on short notice with the Department, but not before the review started. (The tribal representative then pointed out that was the same thing that happened in the original version of Utah Rep. John Curtis’s Emery County bill—no one bothered to contact the Ute Tribe before land exchange provisions for their own reservation were included in the bill.)

Please call their offices to say Thank You. Phone numbers for their Washington, DC offices may be found on CalUWild’s online California Congressional Information Sheet.

The Committee posted a video of the hearing online.

There were some monument-related articles in the press this month:

An article in the Salt Lake Tribune: BLM staffers touted the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument before Trump shrunk it

An article in Roll Call, lending support to the contention that the results of the monument review were preordained: Seeking to shrink Bears Ears, uranium firm met with Interior before review

A long article in Outside: The theft of Grand Staircase-Escalante

2.   Cosponsorship Update
           (ACTION ITEM)

In our February Update we discussed the upcoming April reintroduction of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the House and Senate as well as two national monuments-related bills.The Utah Wilderness Coalition will be sponsoring meetings on Capitol Hill April 8-10 with congressional offices from across the country to educate them about the Red Rock Wilderness Act. Please help that effort by calling your representatives and senators. Ask them to become “original cosponsors” (meaning that their names will be included on the bill when it is introduced).

Cosponsorship shows a strong level of support for the bill and its underlying protections. Cosponsors can generally be relied upon to oppose legislation undercutting the Red Rock Wilderness Act. California Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-47) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) will be reintroducing the bill. (Bill numbers will be assigned after re-introduction.)

Since our last Update, the following California representatives have signed on as cosponsors to the ANTIQUITIES Act of 2019 (H.R. 1050 / S.367)

Mike Thompson (D-5)
Barbara Lee (D-13)
Anna Eshoo (D-18)
Zoe Lofgren (D-19)
Mike Levin (D-49)

and the BEARS Act (H.R. 871)

Mark DeSaulnier (D-11)
Barbara Lee (D-13)
Anna Eshoo (D-18)
Zoe Lofgren (D-19)
Scott Peters (D-52)

A list of California cosponsors for each bill may be found on our Congressional Information Sheet. Please call your representatives and Sens. Feinstein and Harris to thank them for cosponsoring or ask them to cosponsor, whichever is appropriate.

3. BLM Releases Environmental Assessment on Proposed
          Lithium Mining Exploration in Panamint Valley
          Comments Needed
          DEADLINE: April 15
          (ACTION ITEM)

Our friends at Friends of the Inyo sent out the following action alert just as we were finishing putting this month’s Update together. The current deadline is April 15, but conservation groups are requesting that the comment period be extended 45 days. However, there is no guarantee that BLM will grant the request, so it’s best to get your comments in before then (which is also Income Tax Day). Use the talking points below and as Friends of the Inyo suggests, too, if you’ve been there, talk about your experiences.

Proposed Lithium Mine in Panamint Valley

Please submit a comment to help us stop the industrialization of beautiful and remote Panamint Valley!

What’s Happening?
The BLM is now accepting comments on a proposed exploratory drilling project for lithium in Panamint Valley. Battery Mineral Resources, headquartered in Toronto, Canada proposes to drill four holes 2,000 feet deep on Panamint Lake just outside of the Surprise Canyon Wilderness.

What Is Lithium?
Lithium is used in a variety of renewable energy technologies such as the batteries that power electric vehicles. As the country begins to transition towards a more renewable and green economy, we need lithium to power the batteries that power our tech. Currently, the majority of the world’s lithium is produced in Australia and South America. There is only one lithium mine in the United States and it is located in Silver Peak, Nevada. [CalUWild note: See photo above]

While we undoubtedly need lithium to power a renewable future, lithium mines should be sited in the appropriate places–not in places like Panamint Valley which is adjacent to Death Valley National Park, heavily used by a variety of recreationists, and home to rare plant species and wildlife.

Why Should We Protect Panamint Valley?
Panamint Valley is a unique and special treasure. It is as deep as Death Valley and even more narrow. Surrounded by striking mountains, such as Telescope Peak, there are a number of recreational opportunities for those seeking adventure and solitude. Panamint Valley is the only remaining valley managed by the BLM Ridgecrest Field Office that is not developed. It was designated as California Desert National Conservation Land and is to be managed to protect its conservation and recreation values. Imagine seeing from a high peak in the Panamint Range neon colored pools of toxic solutions…

What Can I Do? Send a comment letter today!
The BLM closes their 30-day public comment period on April 15th. Tell the BLM they must protect the resources and values for which Panamint Valley was designated. If you spend any time in Panamint Valley be sure to mention your personal experiences in your comment letter. You can also use any of these points:

The proposed project fails to analyze the full extent of water impacts. Over 2,000 gallons of water will be trucked in and used daily for exploratory drilling. In full production, the Silver Peak lithium mine uses 1.7 to 3 billions gallons of water a year. A Panamint Valley mine would require billions of gallons as well. Cumulative impacts to local water resources have not been addressed.

Surprise Canyon Creek, only a few miles away from drill locations, was designated a Wild & Scenic River in March 2019. Water resources in the canyon could be negatively impacted.

The proposed project location contains unique desert wetland communities, including mesquite bosques and fragile marshes. Endemic fairy shrimp occur in the lake. Lithium exploration will directly contradict the management goals of this Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

The springs, desert marshes, and mesquite groves of Panamint Lake are of paramount importance to the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe. Warm Sulfur Spring, just north of the project site, is a Tribal Cooperative Activity/Special Use area for traditional practices within the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland.

Panamint Valley is the final remaining undeveloped valley managed by the Ridgecrest BLM field office. The BLM needs to manage the California Desert National Conservation Lands to conserve their cultural, biological, and recreational values.

The BLM’s review of recreation and visual resources falls short and does not adequately consider impacts to the nearby Surprise Canyon Wilderness and Death Valley National Park. Visitors will clearly be able to see the drilling from a variety of high points, as well as have to navigate drill locations, truck traffic noise, and dust while exploring the valley.

How do I Submit a Comment?

Follow these steps to submit your comments to the BLM by April 15, 2019.


a. Click here to open the BLM Eplanning website.

b. Scroll down to view the project documents, then select the “Comment on Document” button at the bottom right of the page. You will be directed to a page where you can attach a file of your comments or directly type your comments in. Note: There is no need to fill out the chapter or section reference boxes.

Email the BLM directly

Carl Symons – Ridgecrest Field Manager
csymons [at] blm [dot] gov

Randall Porter – Ridgecrest Field Office Geologist
rporter [at] blm [dot] gov

Submit comments via U.S. Mail

Bureau of Land Management Ridgecrest Field Office
Attn: Randy Porter & Carl Symons
300 South Richmond Road
Ridgecrest, CA 93555

4.   California Native Plant Society Announces 2 Internships

Our friends at the California Native Plant Societyhave announced the creation of two new paid internships. One will be “dedicated to advancing conservation of California wildlands, as well as the species and natural communities they support.” The second “will work with CNPS rare plant and vegetation scientists to explore and understand California’s plants and plant communities.”

For full details, click here.

5. Links to Articles and Other Items of Interest

If a link is broken or otherwise inaccessible, please send me an email, and I’ll fix it or send you a PDF copy. As always, inclusion of an item in this section does not imply agreement with the viewpoint expressed.

The Administration

An article in the Washington Post: Trump officially nominates David Bernhardt, a veteran lobbyist, to run Interior

An article in the New York Times: Interior Nominee Intervened to Block Report on Endangered Species

An article in Westwise, from our friends at the Center for Western Priorities: Six reasons why David Bernhardt is not fit to be the next Interior Secretary

An article in the Washington Post: Acting interior chief’s method of documenting meetings attracts Democrats’ scrutiny

An article from The Center for Investigative Reporting in its publication Reveal: Recording reveals oil industry execs laughing at Trump access

An article in Outside on the president’s proposed budget: Trump’s Proposed Budget Would Devastate National Parks: A close reading of the President’s 2020 Department of the Interior budget reveals massive funding cuts for everything public-lands related—except for oil and gas

An op-ed in the NY Times: Forget Trump’s Border Wall. Let’s Build F.D.R.’s International Park.

Other Public Lands

A long article in Pacific Standard: The hidden battle threatening the future of America’s wild places

A perceptive op-ed by Timothy Egan of the New York Times: Your Public Lands Are Killing You

An op-ed in the New York Times: A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize Is Now Under Threat

An article in the Albuquerque Journal: Navajo Nation’s new energy policy could see shift from coal This is good news, since the Navajo Generating Station has been one of the major contributors to haze on the Colorado Plateau, to say nothing of the shift away from coal as an energy source.

Rob Bishop

An article in the Washington Post on Utah’s Rep. Rob Bishop’s comments: ‘I’m an ethnic. I’m a Westerner’: Rep. Rob Bishop says Green New Deal is ‘tantamount to genocide’

Closing on a Positive Note

An article by Bay Area writer Jeremy Miller: Bird Savant: John Robinson has 20/15 vision and perfect auditory recall. But he’s dedicated his life to the idea that anyone can learn to bird.

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