Environmentalists and Native Americans Confront the Threat of Nevada’s Lithium Mine: Sacred Lands vs. Industrial Progress

June 29, 2023
2 mins read
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Opposing the construction of a lithium mine in Nevada supported by the Biden administration, environmentalists and Native Americans are set to present their arguments before a US appeals court. For nearly two years, the Biden administration’s shift away from fossil fuels and endorsement of lithium and copper mining have faced criticism from environmentalists and Native Americans.

Raising hopes among opponents of the Nevada lithium mine, last year the Biden administration’s plans to build a copper mine in Arizona were thwarted. The appeals court is urged by lawyers representing environmentalists and tribes to overturn a judge’s decision allowing construction to proceed on the Nevada lithium mine.

Despite acknowledging that federal land managers violated the law by approving certain aspects of the project, the lawyer for conservation groups claims that the US district judge in Reno exceeded her authority by refusing to evoke the mine’s operation plan.

With environmentalists and Native Americans opposing President Biden’s climate change initiatives that support the mine’s construction, the Thacker Pass mine in Nevada has become a contentious issue. Following a denied request for intervention by the opposition, the Thacker Pass Mine project began in March, leading to protests and arrests.

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The mining company, Lithium America, has filed a lawsuit to prevent trespassing and secure a protective order against protesters. Despite the site where Native Americans were killed in 1865, tribal leaders opposing the mine have struggled to impede its progress.

Aligning with President Biden’s clean energy goals, Lithium America argues that the Thacker Pass Mine would provide lithium for over 1.5 million electric vehicles per year for 40 years. The lawyers of Lithium America assert that there are no other viable alternatives in the US to meet the demand for lithium necessary to achieve clean energy and transportation objectives.

Initially, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), under the Trump administration, permitted the construction of the mine, a decision upheld by the Biden administration. Claims that the mine will cause significant harm to sage grouse or other spaces are denied by the lawyers for the BLM and Lithium Nevada Corp., the mining company.

The opponents claim that the mine will contaminate groundwater and destroy critical habitat for sage grouse, pronghorn antelope, and other species in violation of environmental laws. The leaders of the Western Shoshone and Paiute tribes have unsuccessfully argued that the Thacker Pass Mine is situated on sacred lands where tribal members were massacred in 1865 and is protected by laws preserving historical and cultural resources.

In March, construction on the mine began after the opponent’s request for an emergency injunction was denied. Protesters against the mine have been arrested, and the mining company has filed a lawsuit to prohibit trespassing.

The appeal is based on the evolving legal landscape since the Bureau of Land Management approved the mine in 2021 and a previous appellate court decision regarding mining claims. In a 2022 ruling, the 9th Circuit Court held that valuable minerals must be present under adjacent lands for mining claims to extend to those lands.

The reserves of the Thacker Pass mine are projected to provide for more than 1.5 million electric vehicles annually for 40 years. With the company investing over $8.7 million in environmental analysts and permitting processes, the construction plans for the mine were modified to avoid environmentally sensitive areas.

Acknowledging the potential impacts of the mine on various resources, the Bureau of Land Management permitted the project based on an environmental review deemed flawed by opponents. The decision of the court on the Thacker Pass mine could have broad implications for mining operations across the western United States.

The opposition argues that the mine’s construction violates several provisions, marking the first instance of a major project proceeding despite such violations.

Govind Tekale

Embarking on a new journey post-retirement, Govind, once a dedicated teacher, has transformed his enduring passion for current affairs and general knowledge into a conduit for expression through writing. His historical love affair with reading, which borders on addiction, has evolved into a medium to articulate his thoughts and disseminate vital information. Govind pens down his insights on a myriad of crucial topics, including the environment, wildlife, energy, sustainability, and health, weaving through every aspect that is quintessential for both our existence and that of our planet. His writings not only mirror his profound understanding and curiosity but also serve as a valuable resource, offering a deep dive into issues that are critical to our collective future and well-being.

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