Energy & Environment

Biden administration seeks review of Trump-era approval of water pipeline

Justice Department lawyers on Friday began the process of reversing a Trump-era approval of a Southern California water pipeline, calling the approval process rushed.

In January, the outgoing Trump administration approved Cadiz Inc.'s repurposing of a disused oil and gas pipeline in the Mojave Desert to carry groundwater.

"The Court should remand [Bureau of Land Management's] decision to grant rights-of-way to Cadiz for purposes of transporting water across federal land," Biden administration lawyers wrote in the filing.

"BLM rushed the approval process and, in doing so, short-circuited necessary reviews and violated the procedural requirements of the [National Environmental Policy Act] and the [National Historic Preservation Act]," they added. 

The National Parks Conservation Association and the Native American Land Conservancy had sued over the project, saying it was undertaken without proper consideration of environmental impacts or tribal consultation. The National Congress of American Indians also adopted a resolution in November opposing the project.

The lack of required reviews, the new filing states, means the Bureau of Land Management did not have enough information when it determined allowing the rights-of-way would not violate the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

Cadiz has argued that the aquifer the project would draw from naturally replenishes itself at a rate of 32,000 acre-feet per year, but the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service have estimated a much slower rate of 6,000 to 10,000 acre-feet per year.

"We thank the Biden administration for recognizing that tribal peoples in the California desert region depend greatly on their sacred ancestral lands and water sources for their spiritual and cultural practices and way of life," Michael Madrigal, president of the Native American Land Conservancy, said in a statement.

"The Trump administration excluded tribes in order to help Cadiz, but today's decision respects that our peoples have been here since the beginning of time and today we continue to visit, gather, and utilize these special areas in the desert for our cultural survival," he added. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also praised the decision in a statement Friday, calling it "a major win for the Mojave Desert."

"The permits remain in place. We will file an opposition brief on Feb 4, 2022, per the Court schedule, and there will be a hearing in March," a Cadiz spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. "The outcome is determined by the judge, not BLM."

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