Ranchers, environmentalists and indigenous communities oppose local lithium | Goldberg Segalla


Thanks to the streaming megahit Yellowstone, and perhaps Kim and Kayne’s brief stint in Wyoming, the West is no longer just for aspiring and aspiring snowboarders or John Wayne adventurers looking to escape the metropolis. In fact, our historically rural and rugged western states have attracted what some would consider too much attention, attracting not only city tourism, but also the attention of big industry. While some Westerners welcome industrial development and the resulting increase in employment opportunities, many now fear that the government’s momentous shift from an emissions-intensive fossil fuel-based economy to a powered by renewable energy, batteries and electric vehicles, or short-lived. seeing and actually doing far more harm than good in its quest to source battery minerals, namely lithium, domestically.

Nevada rancher challenges Thacker Pass mine

In particular, a longtime rancher in Nevada, located at Thacker Pass in the foothills of Montana’s mountains near Oregon, filed suit last year to block a lithium developer’s plans to build an open pit mine in what is believed to be the largest known lithium deposit. in the United States, alleging (among other things) that the mining project violated its natural resource permits. The rancher’s lawsuit cites a host of objections to the lithium mine, calling the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Record of Decision (ROD) approving the Thacker Pass mine for violating sections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), despite the BLM’s knowledge of the predicted adverse environmental impacts on wildlife, ground and surface water, and riparian vegetation at the inside and outside the project area.

The rancher argues that the BLM acknowledged the potential negative environmental impacts of the project, but chose to ignore them, allowing the mine plans to proceed despite clearly not complying with its own visual resource protection requirements. from the BLM. Specifically, the lawsuit cites EPA warnings that a plume of contaminated water exceeding Nevada pollution standards could extend a mile from the open pit some 300 years after it closed.

Lithium: The enigma of environmentalists

The 1,000-acre Thacker Pass lithium mine is expected to operate for 46 years and, at full production, is expected to produce a quarter of current global lithium demand. On paper, the proposed mine seems like an obvious solution to the increased demand for domestically sourced green energy in our transition from fossil fuel dependence to the much-vaunted renewable lithium technologies. The Thacker Pass mine is said to enhance American viability in the emerging lithium market while simultaneously creating hundreds of jobs. However, 46 years and hundreds of jobs are not numbers that necessarily persuade environmentalists, local ranchers and indigenous communities to accept the benefits of promised progress. Opponents say the mine, when geopolitical calculations are removed, represents an experimental technique that involves burning hundreds of tons of sulfur a day, consuming 11,300 gallons of diesel fuel every day, extreme noise pollution and pumping of smog in otherwise untouched areas. federal lands.

Some environmentalists say the proposed 400-foot-deep mine, which extends well below the water table, will require workers to pump groundwater to keep the pit dry, promising to jeopardize Nevada’s most precious resource, water, by its proximity to neighboring aquifers. . Although the BLM ignores this risk, opponents argue that the project could make the surrounding land uninhabitable for native vegetation and endanger local wildlife, including prairie hawks and a rare species of snail.

Conservationists, ranchers and indigenous communities join forces Aagainst the lithium mine

Environmental groups and tribal organizations that support the rancher have also joined in the fight against the Thacker Pass mine. Over the past year, these groups have raised a number of additional concerns about how the footprint of the mine, in particular how the noise pollution generated by its operation, is likely to affect populations of western grouse. sagebrush as well as the migration patterns of other wildlife species.

Premonitory judgment?

Last month, in what appeared to be a prescient blow to the local rancher and nearby Indigenous communities who have spent the past year challenging BLM approvals of Lithium Nevada’s plans, a federal judge denied the application for a local tribal nation from a preliminary injunction to block Lithium Nevada from innovating despite evidence that the proposed project was a Native American burial site on the basis that the footprint of the planned work was relatively small. After several attempts to thwart construction of the Thacker Pass mine to protect historic graves within the project footprint, U.S. District Judge Miranda M. Du disagreed with the tribe’s position that a injunction was necessary, finding that the tribe had failed to discharge its burden of establishing that they were in fact entitled to the “extraordinary remedy” of the injunction. Lithium Nevada, in defense of Judge Du’s ruling, insists that the impending ground disturbance will only disturb 0.25 acres.

On the heels of Judge Wu’s ruling, Lithium Nevada received the remainder of its state permits, meaning groundbreaking will likely begin with the spring thaw. However, the rancher’s fight against the mine is not over. The case is pending appeal on the merits of allegations that BLM’s approval of Lithium Nevada’s plans violated federal environmental laws and was improperly and unlawfully arbitrary. A decision is expected this fall. Although that decision is currently on appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to date the Court has yet to rule on the merits of the case, namely whether the BLM erred in awarding a license for the mine.

Resounding voices against lithium beyond the courtroom

Since the rancher’s trial began, environmental watchdogs have taken to the stage outside the courtroom, setting up a protest camp atop the federal public land where the potential mine is destined, drawing increased media attention to the potential dangers of lithium and sparking the curiosity of others would be plaintiffs. Regardless of the adverse litigation tally, the encampment and its passionate protesters continue, continuing to attract the attention of journalists and like-minded activists who intend to continue their fight against what they believe to be another act of destructive industrial development under the guise of service. for the greater good in the nation’s quest for local lithium.

While the ruling is currently in favor of lithium, a future where conservationists, ranchers and indigenous tribes lock arms and challenge lithium by arguing its dangers suggests that the momentum could undoubtedly change and lead to a new wave of litigation focused on lithium.


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