A federal judge in Reno is expected to rule in the next two months whether Lithium Americas Corp’s Thacker Pass lithium mining project in Northern Nevada can proceed without further environmental reviews and consultations with indigenous communities.
Chief Judge Miranda Du on Jan. 5 spent nearly three hours hearing arguments from environmental activists, tribal members, ranchers and the lawyers representing the project planned on a site 53 miles northeast of Winnemucca. Those opposed to the mine say the $1.6 billion project would permanently scar and disrupt the area, which is home to wildlife and key water sources for livestock.
The lithium mine, which would be the largest in the nation, was slated to start construction last year, but the company’s timetable has been delayed by lawsuits.
Lithium is the main component for rechargeable batteries found in high-tech devices from electric cars to cell phones. It’s touted as a green-energy solution to fossil fuels, but critics say extracting the element comes at too high of a cost for rural communities, endangered species and water resources.
The environmental review process was fast-tracked by the Trump administration; the BLM’s initial assessment was completed in less than a year. A lawyer for Lithium Americas told the judge that she should give extra weight to the argument that lithium is essential in the nation’s effort to wean itself off fossil fuels and battle climate change.
Du wasn’t buying it: “That’s a policy argument,” she said. “ … which really doesn’t apply.”
Several Nevada tribes, including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, have argued they were not properly consulted about the mine—which they say is on a sacred ground—and that there are many unanswered questions about how the mining operations will affect the area. Lithium Americas officials have said they remain committed to the project, which is near a site where in 1865, Nevada cavalry volunteers murdered 31 Paiute men, women and children as they slept in shelters.