(CN) – Environmental groups are applauding a 9th Circuit decision rejecting a land exchange that would have cleared the path for the world’s largest landfill adjacent to Joshua Tree National Monument.
The National Parks Conservation Association, Desert Protection Society and others challenged the land exchange, proposed by Kaiser Eagle Mountain and approved by the Bureau of Land Management.
Kaiser would have acquired 3,481 acres of public land for 2,846 acres of private land and a $20,100 payment. The proposed landfill would have taken up more than 4,500 acres, operating for 117 years and accepting up to 20,000 tons of trash daily.
Environmentalists said the land exchange and dump proposal would threaten habitat for sensitive species, spoil a scenic wilderness and harm the ecosystem by introducing excess nutrients.
They argued that the BLM did not receive fair market value for the land, and that building a dump there was not in the public’s interest.
The San Francisco-based appellate court largely upheld a 2005 lower court decision in saying that the landfill proposal was not the “highest and best use” for the land.
The appeals circuit agreed with environmentalists that a land appraisal report, which refused to consider landfill use in its analysis, remained “willfully blind” to the value of federal lands.
“The BLM adopted Kaiser’s interests as its own to craft a purpose and need statement so narrowly drawn as to foreordain approval of the land exchange,” Judge Pregerson wrote, stating that private objectives should not define the scope of project alternatives.
The appeals court reversed the lower court’s decision that an environmental impact statement provided “full consideration” of relevant factors, including taking a hard look at impacts to bighorn sheep populations. The impact statement did not thoroughly discuss the effects of introducing excess nutrients into the desert environment, the 9th Circuit ruled.
In a 49-page dissent, Judge Trott disagreed on nearly every aspect of the majority opinion. Trott said that “well-meaning” environmental laws unfairly stymied the private companies’ efforts, writing that “[n]ot the Cyclops, not the Sirens, and not even Scylla and Charybdis can measure up to the obstacles Kaiser has faced in this endeavor.”
The court remanded the issue to the BLM for further consideration.
Kaiser has been trying to build a landfill at Eagle Mountain, the site of a former iron ore mine, for 20 years. The most recent proposal involved transport of waste by rail, filling the largest mine pit with waste and using tailings to cover it up.
The underlying lawsuits were originally filed in 1999 and 2000.