Taking Out the Trash

Legal victory means no landfill near Joshua Tree.

By Amy Leinbach Marquis

If Kaiser Ventures had its way, the whimsical landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park would look less like an illustration from the pages of Dr. Seuss, and more like a scene from the apocalyptic film Mad Max.

Since 1988, the company has sought to develop the nation’s largest garbage dump, dubbed the Eagle Mountain Landfill, in a remote canyon adjacent to the park. By August 2000, the plan had evolved so that California’s Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts would export 20,000 tons of trash per day to this site, surrounded on three sides by Joshua Tree wilderness. NPCA and its allies pushed back immediately, igniting a complex legal battle that has lasted nearly two decades.

But this March, local communities and park lovers across the country had reason to celebrate when the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear an appeal from Kaiser Ventures. The move upholds a 2009 U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that overturned the land exchange necessary for the development of the dump. It also signals an end to Kaiser’s appeals, forcing the company to return to the drawing board.

“The Supreme Court’s recent decision is great news for all of us who care about the park,” says David Lamfrom, California Desert program manager for NPCA. It’s also great news for the park itself, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year; and for the endangered desert tortoise, which would suffer from an increase in predators like ravens and coyotes lured by the dump; and for park visitors, who flock here for the fresh air, endless rock landscapes, and natural sounds that have long defined Joshua Tree.

Officials at Kaiser Ventures appear to be searching for a new way to make the dump happen. But NPCA and its allies are standing by to squelch any new attempts. “It’s inspiring to realize how many people care deeply about Joshua Tree National Park and are willing to keep fighting for it,” Lamfrom says.

Amy Leinbach Marquis is National Parks’ associate editor.

This article appears in the Summer 2011 issue.

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