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Plan to protect Nevada flower could impact proposed lithium project

October 4, 2021

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a proposed rule to list the Tiehm’s buckwheat flower as an endangered species.
The decision could potentially impact the permitting process of ioneer Ltd’s nearby lithium mine in Nevada.

Reuters reported that the move was expected and will start a 60-day period for public comment once the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register later this month. A final decision is expected within a year.

Anyone is free to send comments to the agency, which said in a statement that “more information is needed to conduct an economic assessment of potential impacts to the species.”

The endangered species designation would not necessarily block the project, but could impede permitting. Construction had been slated to start this year, with the mine opening by 2023.

The regulatory review reflects the ongoing tension between environmentalists and industry as the United States tries to wean its economy off fossil fuels and go electric.

Australia-based ioneer said it supports the agency’s move and is “highly confident that with a combination of avoidance, propagation and translocation, we can achieve the successful coexistence of Tiehm’s buckwheat and our environmentally significant project.”

“We fully support the decisions by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the work it and the BLM are undertaking to safeguard Tiehm’s buckwheat. ioneer reiterates its commitment to preservation of this species. From the beginning, the Rhyolite Ridge operation has been designed and planned to incorporate the conservation and protection of Tiehm’s buckwheat. We have always firmly understood the need to protect this species, irrespective of its listing status, given its small population and limited geographic spread along the edges of the area we operate in,” ioneer Managing Director Bernard Rowe said. “ioneer has invested considerable funds into undertaking the most comprehensive studies and efforts into Tiehm’s buckwheat management strategies to date to ensure the species is not only protected but that its populations are expanded in the years to come.

The ongoing review has not stopped financing efforts or scared off potential customers, though. South African miner Sibanye Stillwater Ltd last month bought half of the Nevada project for $490 million.

That deal came after South Korean battery maker Ecopro Co Ltd agreed in June to buy roughly a third of the project’s planned annual output of 7,000 tonnes of lithium.

“ioneer will ensure the necessary measures are in place to mitigate any potential impacts of its operations and natural threats to the plant in its environment. Core to our strategy is avoidance where possible and minimisation of any disturbance by our operations. Our propagation, transplant and translocation programs will not only see populations expanded, but reduce the risk to the plant from further climate impacts and herbivory,” said Rowe. “Based upon the science, we are highly confident that with a combination of avoidance, propagation and translocation, we can achieve the successful coexistence of Tiehm’s buckwheat and our environmentally significant project, which will supply critically needed lithium products in the US.”
 

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