Conservationists and tribes urge US appeals court to block Biden-backed Nevada lithium mine

the Associated Press

July 6, 2023

Lawyers for environmentalists and tribes are urging a U.S. appeals court to overturn a judge’s decision to allow construction to begin on the Thacker Pass lithium mine in Nevada.

They argue that the judge’s decision on developing the huge lithium mine in Nevada earlier this year happened before the plans were in full compliance with federal law.

The Associated Press is reporting that a lawyer representing four conservation groups seeking to halt the project said a U.S. district judge in Reno illegally exceeded her authority when she refused to revoke the mine’s operation plan in March despite her conclusion that federal land managers had violated the law in approving parts of it.

“This is the first time in public land history that we have a major project violating a number of provisions but is allowed to go forward,” Roger Flynn, the director of the Colorado-based Western Mining Action Project, told a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“In the meantime, thousands of acres of public land are essentially being clear-cut,” he said about the high-desert sagebrush that serves as critical habitat for the imperiled bird species sage grouse.

The Nevada mine at Thacker Pass near the Oregon line has pitted environmentalists and Native Americans against President Joe Biden’s plans to combat climate change and could have broad implications for mining operations across the West. The mine would involve extraction of the silvery-white metal used in electric-vehicle batteries.

This is the first time the San Francisco-based appellate court has considered the merits of such a case since it blocked construction of an Arizona copper mine last year based on a more stringent interpretation of a Civil War-era mining law regarding the use of neighboring lands to dispose of waste.

Lawyers for the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that approved the mine, and the mining company, Lithium Nevada Corp., denied the mine would cause any serious harm to sage grouse or other species.

They said that U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno acted within her authority when she allowed construction of the mine to begin in March while ordering the bureau to provide additional evidence it was in compliance with the so-called “Rosemont decision” that blocked the Arizona mine.

Lithium Nevada, a subsidiary of the Canadian-based Lithium Americas, has spent more than $8.7 million on the environmental analysis and permitting process, even altering the original plans to move it outside of environmentally sensitive areas, said Laura Granier, a lawyer for the company. She said investments in mitigation, legal costs and initial construction already have exceeded $150 million.

Photo courtesy of Lithium Americas.


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