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California's Clean Energy Ambitions Imperil Thousands of Protected Joshua Trees

A ambitious clean energy initiative in California has sparked concern over the potential harm it poses to thousands of Joshua trees, a unique and iconic species protected by state law.

The project, known as the Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Project, aims to harness the power of gravity to store excess energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind, for later use. The project involves constructing two massive reservoirs on opposite slopes of a mountain near Desert Center, California.

However, the project's proposed location directly abuts the Joshua Tree National Park, home to one of the world's largest populations of Joshua trees. Environmentalists and conservationists fear that the construction and operation of the reservoirs could pose significant threats to these iconic plants.

Impacts on Joshua Trees

The primary concern is the potential for habitat loss. The proposed reservoirs would inundate approximately 1,300 acres of land, including an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 mature Joshua trees. These trees are slow-growing and long-lived, making it nearly impossible to relocate or mitigate for their loss.

Additionally, the project could disrupt the hydrology of the area, affecting the availability of water for Joshua trees and other desert species. The reservoirs could alter surface water flow patterns and recharge rates for groundwater aquifers that support the trees.

Furthermore, the project's massive infrastructure, including pipelines, transmission lines, and access roads, could fragment the habitat of Joshua trees, making it more difficult for them to move and reproduce.

Legal Protections

Joshua trees are protected under the California Endangered Species Act. The California Fish and Wildlife Commission has designated the species as a "threatened" plant, meaning it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

The construction and operation of the Eagle Mountain project would require a permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. However, the department has indicated that it is unlikely to issue the permit if the project poses a significant threat to Joshua trees.

Alternative Options

Conservationists argue that there are alternative locations for the Eagle Mountain project that would not impact Joshua trees. They propose moving the reservoirs to a site further away from the national park, where the potential for habitat loss would be significantly reduced.

Additionally, they suggest exploring other clean energy technologies, such as distributed energy resources and energy efficiency measures, that have a lower environmental impact.

Decision-Making Process

The California Energy Commission is currently conducting an environmental review of the Eagle Mountain project to assess its potential impacts on Joshua trees and other sensitive resources. A public hearing is scheduled for March 22, 2023, where the public can provide input on the project.

The Energy Commission will then make a decision on whether to approve the project based on the environmental review and public comments. If the project is approved, it is likely to face additional legal challenges from environmental groups.


California's clean energy goals are laudable, but they must be balanced against the protection of sensitive ecosystems and iconic species. The Eagle Mountain Pumped Storage Project poses a significant threat to thousands of Joshua trees, and alternative options should be explored to avoid unnecessary harm to this unique and protected plant.

The decision-making process for the project should be guided by a comprehensive environmental review and a commitment to preserving California's natural heritage for future generations.

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