The Trump Administration’s Latest Attack on the Cargill Salt Ponds

The Cargill salt ponds completely covered in water in April 2019

Last fall, we sued the Trump administration over its failure to maintain Clean Water Act jurisdiction over the Cargill salt ponds in Redwood City. On March 12 of this year, at a time when most of us were focused on the growing seriousness of the coronavirus threat, the Trump administration was busy filing a motion arguing that the Cargill salt ponds do not contain water, but rather are “fast land” (i.e. dry, solid upland) and therefore not subject to the Clean Water Act. This is in spite of the fact that Environmental Protection Agency staff reached the opposite conclusion several years ago — a conclusion the Trump administration is trying to block from being included in the court record.

We’re fighting back against these groundless arguments in order to save the salt ponds from future development and ensure that they can someday be restored to tidal wetlands.

Trump Administration Ignores Facts, Law, and Its Own Staff

In September 2019, Green Foothills, together with several other environmental groups and the California Attorney General, sued the Trump administration over its actions in abandoning Clean Water Act jurisdiction over the Cargill salt ponds. This decision by the Trump administration ignored the facts, the law, and the findings of its own professional staff in San Francisco’s Region 9 office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Now, the Trump administration is arguing to the judge that the salt ponds are actually “fast land” and therefore not subject to the Clean Water Act. This is counter to the conclusion its EPA Region 9 staff reached several years ago — that the salt ponds are in fact subject to the Clean Water Act because, among other factors, the ponds are currently navigable. In fact, Cargill owns a floating dredge called the “Mallard” that is able to navigate on the ponds. The Trump administration provided no explanation of why it simply ignored the reasoned analysis of its own expert staff. The arbitrary and capricious nature of the Trump administration’s action made it unlawful.

Trump Administration Trying to Block EPA Findings From Court Record

It is particularly egregious that the Trump administration has refused to include the EPA Region 9 findings in the administrative record that it is required to provide to the court. Given that the Region 9 document contains extensive, in-depth legal and factual analysis concluding that the Clean Water Act does in fact apply to the Cargill salt ponds, which the Trump administration’s sketchy and conclusory determination doesn’t even mention, let alone rebut, this is perhaps unsurprising.

We’re Fighting Back

We’ve filed a motion asking for the Region 9 document and other pertinent information to be included in the administrative record, and we’ve responded to the Trump administration’s arguments by pointing out the simple facts — that the Cargill salt ponds meet the definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act, and that the Region 9 staff’s well-reasoned analysis is the correct one.

The current COVID-19 crisis may delay the court hearing till later this year, but we will continue to vigilantly defend the Redwood City salt ponds from this and other threats. These salt ponds should be restored to thriving tidal marsh, just like all the other former salt ponds that are now part of the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge.

What You Can Do

Join us in the fight to protect the Redwood City salt ponds! Sign the petition telling Cargill that the salt ponds should be restored to wetlands, not paved over for development.

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