Nevada lithium mine wins judgment; green energy battles rage on

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A U.S. judge has ordered the government to reconsider part of its environmental assessment of a planned lithium mine in Nevada, but denied opponents’ efforts to block it in a ruling that the developer sees for building the country’s largest known deposit of the rare metal, which is commonly used in rechargeable batteries.

The decision marks a significant victory for Canadian-based Lithium Americas Corp. over its subsidiary’s project near the Nevada-Oregon border and a setback – at least for now – for conservationists, tribesmen and a rancher in Nevada, who have all been fighting for both last years. Opponents said they were considering an appeal based in part on growing questions about the scope of a 150-year-old mining law.

It’s the latest in a series of high-stakes lawsuits pitting environmentalists and others against so-called “green energy” projects that President Joe Biden’s administration is pushing to help expedite the country’s transition. from fossil fuels to renewable energies.

The White House says the mine on the Nevada-Oregon line is key to ramping up efforts to produce raw materials for electric vehicle batteries.

Critics argue that prospecting for lithium poses the same environmental threats as mining any other mineral or metal in the largest gold-mining state in the United States. They say efforts to minimize potential environmental and cultural impacts amount to “greenwashing.”

“We really need just and lasting solutions to the climate crisis and not to deepen the biodiversity crisis,” said Greta Anderson, deputy director of the Western Watersheds Project, one of the plaintiffs who are considering appealing.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno ruled late Monday that opponents could not prove the project, approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in January 2021, would damage wildlife habitat, affect groundwater or pollute the air.

She also denied – for the third time – the relief sought by Native American tribes, who argued it could destroy a nearby sacred site where their ancestors were massacred in 1865.

In his 49-page judgment, Du pointed to respect for the approval of such projects by a federal agency. However, she also acknowledged the complexity of the laws governing energy exploration in a recent U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision she rendered that could pose new challenges for those making claims in under the Mining Act 1872.

“While this case encapsulates the tensions between competing interests and political goals, this order in no way determines a winner based on political considerations,” Du warned in the introduction to his decision.

Other projects facing legal challenges in a US court in Nevada include a proposed lithium mine where a desert wildflower has been declared endangered and a planned geothermal power plant on federal land near the habitat. of an endangered toad.

Last week, General Motors Co. announced that it had conditionally agreed to invest $650 million in Lithium Americas in a deal that would give GM exclusive access to the first phase of the Thacker Pass mine, 321 kilometers northeast. of Reno granted. The equity investment is contingent on the project resolving the final environmental and legal challenges it faces in federal court.

“The affirmative decision allows for the final regulatory approval required to move Thacker Pass into construction,” Lithium Americas President and CEO Jonathan Evans said in a statement Tuesday. The company expects production to start in the second half of 2026.

Du gave environmentalists a partial victory by agreeing that the Bureau of Land Management had not determined whether the company had valid mining rights to 1,300 acres (526 hectares) adjacent to the mine site where Lithium Nevada plans to bury waste rock. .

However, he denied opponents’ request to rescind the agency’s approval of the project’s business case, which would have barred any construction from starting until a new business case was released.

Environmentalists clung to the lonely part of their favorable decision. This section contains a recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in a battle against the Mining Act of 1872 in an Arizona case that could prove more onerous for mining companies looking to dump their waste in neighboring states.

The San Francisco Court of Appeals upheld an Arizona ruling that the Forest Service had no authority to approve Rosemont Copper’s plans to dispose of waste rock on land adjacent to the mine it planned to dig in a state forest southeast of Tucson. The service and the Bureau of Land Management have long interpreted the Mining Act to grant these countries the same mineral rights.

“It’s disappointing that the BLM and the Biden administration can’t see through the greenwashing,” Wildland Defense’s Katie Fite said Tuesday.

Scott Sonner, The Associated Press


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