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Conservation groups seek emergency halt on Nevada lithium mine

Mining tunnel. © iStock - svedoliver
Alex Gonzalez

(Nevada News Service) Conservation groups in Nevada have filed an emergency motion in federal court to stop the development of the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine north of Winnemucca, until an appeal can be heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Talasi Brooks, staff attorney for the Western Watersheds Project, said the motion would stop mine construction, which could begin as early as next week.

Earlier this month, a U.S. District Court judge ruled the Bureau of Land Management violated the law in approving the project, because the agency assumed Lithium Nevada had the rights to occupy the land where it plans to dump waste rock and tailings. The decision did not halt development of the open-pit mine, which Brooks warned could cause irreparable damage. 

"The project will begin by stripping away all surface vegetation in the project area, and that will completely destroy that area's ecological and cultural values," Brooks asserted.

Brooks added the project would have a negative impact on the wildlife and ecosystem adjacent to the Montana Mountains, including the imperiled Greater sage-grouse population.

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Lithium Nevada countered the project would play a vital role in building a U.S. battery supply chain. The company said Thacker Pass contains the largest known lithium deposit in the U.S., a metal in growing demand.

Brooks noted the project could also affect springs supporting the King's River Pyrg -- a small snail -- and have serious consequences for water and air quality in a region already struggling to recover from wildfire damage.

"The project area is the last south-facing unburned slope in the entire Montana Mountains," Brooks pointed out. "It really provides a vital boost that these wildlife really need, coming out of this season."

She added conservation groups are convinced the permitting process has set a dangerous precedent by allowing a mining project to move forward without adequate analysis of the environmental consequences.