A federal appeals court in San Francisco today blocked, at least for the time being, the construction of the nation’s largest landfill next to Joshua Tree National Park in Riverside County.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said by a 2-1 vote that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management did not adequately study several factors before approving a land swap with the landfill developer.

The waste dump proposed by Kaiser Ventures LLC is known as the Eagle Mountain landfill. It would occupy 4,654 acres at a former iron ore mine site and would accept 20,000 tons of garbage per day from several southern California communities.

As part of the project, Kaiser proposed to acquire 3,481 acres of public land from the BLM in exchange for $20,100 and 2,846 acres of private land in the desert wilderness area.
The project was opposed in two lawsuits by several environmental groups, including the National Parks & Conservation Association.

Among other conclusions, the appeals court majority said the BLM didn’t look at a broad enough range of alternatives because it followed the developer’s interests too closely when defining the purpose and need for a land swap.

Circuit Judge Harry Pregerson wrote, “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.”

The court sent the case back to a federal trial judge in Riverside for further proceedings.
Mike Cipra, the California desert program manager for the parks association, said, “Today’s ruling is a landmark victory for Joshua Tree National Park’s bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and the 1.3 million people who come here every year to enjoy our beloved national park.”

Kaiser Ventures Chief Executive Rick Stoddard said the company is considering an appeal to an expanded 11-judge panel of the circuit court.

Stoddard said, “Our steadfast belief continues to be that the Eagle Mountain landfill’s environmental analysis was more than adequate and that the proper legal procedures were followed in completing the land exchange.”

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