Washington, DC , July 1, 2019 – The National Park Service illegally approved diversion of a desert spring for a mine outside the park to accommodate “the current administration’s priorities,” according to a complaint filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At stake is Sourdough Springs that feeds an oasis for vegetation and wildlife in forbidding Death Valley National Park, the largest area of the national park system in the U.S. outside of Alaska.
On March 15, 2019, the National Park Service (NPS) signed off on using Sourdough Springs water to support the Keystone Mine with a Finding of No Significant Impact in violation of law. Emails obtained by PEER through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show NPS knowingly gave improper approval. In one e-mail dated October 3, 2017 the NPS Washington Office in Denver (Geological Resources Division (GRD)) advised Death Valley National Park officials to accept the Bush Mining Company (BMC) claims despite not meeting requirements:
“I know that BMC’s letter does not come close to a real plan, but given the current administration’s priorities, I think we should just accept it as a proposed plan and move on.”
In a complaint filed today with the Interior’s Department of Inspector General, PEER charged that NPS went ahead and acquiesced to the diversion even though the mining claims are likely invalid and NPS declined to request a validity examination on those claims. In addition, the mine operator installed an unapproved surface PVC water line from Sourdough Springs in early 2016.
“Disturbingly, the Park Service took illegal actions in this case not because they were ordered to but because they feared they might be,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to “talking points” sent to the park officials by GRD on August 10, 2018:
“…consistent with Sec. Zinke’s vision of ‘One DOI’… The NPS is not seeking to apply the regulations to the portion of the operation that is on BLM lands, just the portion within the park, and we didn’t even get a separate plan of operations for that (which, under the (NPS) regs, we should have). And, we are not requiring a validity exam prior to the use of the millsites in the park, this deviates from our overall policy. In short, we have made a lot of concessions…”
“This appears to be a clear abdication of the Park Service’s legal responsibility to protect park resources,” added Ruch, noting that Sourdough Springs lies at the western edge of the park in the Panamint Valley, far from park headquarters, making it hard to patrol. “These park officials gave up Sourdough Springs with barely a peep of protest.”