US Government clears a pathway for Thacker Pass Mine to proceed

May 17, 2023

The U.S. Interior Department has determined that Lithium Americas Corp’s Thacker Pass Mine in Nevada can proceed by finding nearly all of the site contains lithium.

Opponents of the project turned to an unrelated ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that blocked the Rosemont copper project in Arizona because that project planned to store its tailings on federal land that did not contain metals. The 9th Circuit strictly interpreted the 1872 Mining Law to rule mining companies do not necessarily have the right under U.S. law to store waste rock on federal land that does not contain valuable minerals. The 9th Circuit held instead that the company must establish — and the government must validate — that valuable minerals are present under such lands for a claim to exist.

The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno adopted the new standard in a ruling in February that found the U.S. Bureau of Land Management failed to comply with the law when it approved Lithium Americas plan to open the Thacker Pass Mine about 322 km (200 miles) northeast of Reno.

However, Du allowed construction to begin at the mine while the agency provides additional proof the company has the mineral rights necessary to dump waste rock and tailings from the operation on adjacent federal land.

Interior Department officials announced on May 16 that the land management bureau has completed the review necessary to establish mineral rights on the land adjacent to Lithium Americas’ project and is convinced it will satisfy Du’s requirement.

Of the dozens of mining claims at the Thacker Pass site held by the company, the government found fewer than 10 did not contain lithium mineralization, an Interior Department official told Reuters.

“They’re going to be able to start construction and production without these claims being in the plan of operation,” the official said of Lithium Americas.

The Vancouver, Canada-based company, which is developing the project with General Motors Co, can apply for a right-of-way to use those other claims for non-mining purposes, the official said.

“We’re committed to doing this job right and meeting or exceeding state and federal regulations as we advance construction,” said Jon Evans, the CEO of Lithium Americas.

The opinion comes as the Biden administration has taken steps to block other mines, although the official said those should not be taken as a sign of opposition to all extractive projects.

“We’re in favor of increasing domestic mineral production when it’s being done in the right location and in the right way,” the official said.

The Interior Department also announced that it is taking steps to clarify mineral rights under the 1872 law to reflect the “realities of the 21st century.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., called the “Rosemont decision” misguided and said it defies more than a century of practice on landscapes in the West. She recently introduced a bill with bipartisan support seeking to insulate the mine at Thacker Pass and others from the ruling by essentially adopting language that reverts to the historic interpretation that automatically conveyed established mining rights to the neighboring lands.

An Interior Department official told The Associated Press that the Biden administration doesn’t intend to challenge or appeal the Rosemont decision. The official requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly. The department issued a new legal opinion from its solicitor general to provide guidance to mining companies.

The new opinion “will support the timely review of mining proposals on federal lands and is one step of many” Interior is taking to “update guidance for mining companies to reflect the realities of the 21st century,” Deputy Interior Secretary Tommy Beaudreau said in a statement.



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