U.S. largest lithium mining project faces strong resistance

By Tan Jingjing, Huang Heng (Xinhua) 09:47, July 08, 2022

LOS ANGELES, July 7 (Xinhua) -- The planned Thacker Pass lithium mine in the remote north of U.S. state of Nevada, the largest known lithium deposit in the United States, has drawn concerns and protests from environmental groups, Native American tribes and local ranchers.

The proposed lithium clay mining development project, one of the largest in the world, is located in Humboldt County, about 25 miles from the Nevada-Oregon border.

The mine is designed to cover 9 square miles of public land and operate on one of the largest lithium deposits in the country, according to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP).

Using ore crushing, acid leaching and processing methods, the mine aims to produce lithium carbonate, which will be turned into electric car batteries, according to the NDEP.

The project run by Lithium Americas, the mining company developing the mine site, has become a hotspot of controversy over the past year as it faces strong resistance from protesters, with some having been camping out near the project site for a long time.

The company received a permit from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to develop the mine in January 2021.

Soon after the permit was issued, several lawsuits were filed in federal court seeking to slow or halt the project. The lawsuits claim that the land is sacred ground for American Indians and argue that the project will damage the local environment.

"The mine was fast-tracked, meaning the decision for its approval along with the analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act for it, were completed on a much shorter time frame than is typical for the permitting of a mine in the United States," John Hadder, director of Great Basin Resource Watch, one of the environmental groups filing lawsuit against the project, told Xinhua in an interview.

"The company has failed to receive community consent for the project from the local communities. This quick analysis and decision for approval were made despite deep concerns from local communities, as well as an array of wildlife and other issues," Hadder said.

"There was much that the public and the directly affected community was unclear about even through the federal permit process, and to some extent still today. I think the company was well aware of the content of public concerns," he told Xinhua.

The severe environmental impacts the project could have was not "properly analyzed" in the decision to permit the mine, he noted.

Local cattle rancher Edward Bartell sued the federal government, alleging that the environmental impact statement the BLM relied upon was "one-sided, deeply flawed, and incomplete," and underestimated the effects on groundwater and streams.

Several tribes and Native American organizations also opposed the Thacker Pass mine project.

People of Red Mountain, a group of Fort McDermitt tribal descendants, claimed the mine threatens their homelands, and accused the BLM of violating the National Historic Preservation Act by failing to adequately consult the tribes.

"In addition to environmental concerns, Thacker Pass is sacred to our people. Thacker Pass is a spiritually powerful place that has lots of stories, and is of cultural importance to the tribes," Doranda Hinkey, a member of People of Red Mountain told Xinhua.

Noting the importance of water usage to local tribes, Hinkey said the amount of water the project plans to take from the mine is "very concerning."

"We are also concerned about some social aspects of the project such as man camps, increase of economy, housing and what kind of people are brought here," Hinkey told Xinhua.

She said local tribes have not been properly consulted about the potential impacts to their sacred ground, although the Thacker Pass mine would be built on their traditional lands. 

(Web editor: Sheng Chuyi, Liang Jun)


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