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Environmentalists seek to block Nevada lithium mine needed for EV batteries

Jun 28, 2023


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A decision by a federal district court judge to permit the construction of a massive lithium mine in Nevada, despite the project’s failure to comply fully with federal law, is now facing backlash. Environmentalist groups and Native American tribes have challenged the ruling in federal appeals court, claiming it represents an illegal overexertion of authority.

Referred to as the “Thacker Pass mine,” the district court acknowledged in March that federal land managers had violated the law in approving certain aspects of the mine’s construction. Yet despite this acknowledgment, the court refused to revoke the project’s operation plan, which has sparked concern among opponents who view it as a dangerous precedent that allows illegal mining plans to move forward with the expectation that they will be addressed later.

“This is the first time in public land history that we have a major project violating a number of provisions but is allowed to go forward,” said Roger Flynn, the director of the Colorado-based Western Mining Action Project.

Native American leaders have joined the opposition, objecting to the mine’s planned construction on what they consider sacred lands. The proposed location sits on the site where U.S. soldiers massacred dozens of tribal members in 1865.

“It’s going to directly affect my people, my culture, my religion, my traditions, it’s literally desecrating a massacre site of my people,” Daranda Hinkey, a member of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, said. “And I’m worried that these environmental issues and these cultural issues are directly going to affect my children, the children after that and children after that. And to me that’s cultural genocide.”

Conservationists are also expressing worries that the project’s construction will result in groundwater pollution and damage the habitat of the near-threatened sage-grouse bird species, as well as other local wildlife.

However, attorneys representing the mining company, Lithium Nevada Corp., argue that their client has invested heavily in efforts to mitigate the mine’s environmental impact. Both the company and the Bureau of Land Management, the federal government agency that approved the mine, have denied that this project will cause serious harm to wildlife.

Lithium Nevada Corp. claims to have already invested over $8.7 million in the environmental analysis and permitting process, even making alterations to the original proposal to relocate construction away from environmentally sensitive areas. Additionally, the company will be required to set aside over $47 million in financial assurance to guarantee revitalization of the site after the mine closes.

“There were no short cuts. There was no expense spared, no corners cut when it comes to mitigation,” Laura Granier, a lawyer for Lithium Nevada Corp., said.

“As a responsible steward of the environment, we are focused on reducing our energy consumption and our priority is to sustainably manage water resources by limiting its use and safeguarding its quality,” Lithium Nevada Corp. said on its website. “Thacker Pass has been engineered to minimize the environmental footprint, by avoiding sensitive environmental habitat and employing the best available environmental control technologies.”

This legal battle unfolds against the backdrop of the Biden administration’s push to promote electric vehicles, for which lithium extraction plays a crucial role. If the mine’s construction proceeds, it is projected to produce enough lithium for over 1.5 million electric vehicles annually over the next four decades, generating an estimated annual profit of $1.5 billion.

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