Where Biodiversity, Tribal Views and Climate Mitigation Meet -And Disagree.. The Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Case

State Route 293, seen on April 27, 2021, is a lightly-trafficked one-lane road that crosses U.S. 95 and leads from Orovada to Thacker Pass on the other side of the valley. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)


Here’s  one of those blanket statements being made that sound vaguely plausible at some scale in this recent article in Discover, called  “Debunking Climate Myths”. (Personally if I never heard the word “debunking” again in this lifetime, I would be quite happy.)

Action to mitigate climate change and adapt to its risks and impacts is already happening. Efforts to reduce carbon emissions, switch to renewable energy sourcesrewild natural areas and more are ongoing and often occur at the local level.

And here we go.. how would “rewilding” actually work to reduce carbon emissions, or perhaps it’s adaptation, or a “natural climate solution”? So what is the role of “unnatural climate solutions”?  It seems that in physical world, as opposed to word world, there is some tension between rewilding and climate mitigation.  And while folks can write they want about it in various media outlets.. it’s at the local level where the renewable rubber meets the biodiversity/rewild road, and where, according to the IUCN, indigenous and local rights are to be protected.

In that light, let’s go to an interesting piece today from the Nevada Independent via the Center for Western Priorities.. I think it’s a really good detailed piece, with lots of legal stuff.  It’s one of those examples of projects where people honestly disagree, and the way it goes into court it makes it sound like “the BLM did it wrong” as if there were a way they could have analyzed it that would be.. right.. and come to the “wrong” conclusion.

The interpretation of a 150-year-old mining law could be a part of whether a U.S. District Court judge upholds the federal government’s approval of a massive lithium mine — a project that has faced challenges from a local rancher, environmental groups and Native American tribes.

In legal briefs over the past two years, the mine’s opponents have challenged federal permitting of the planned Thacker Pass mine north of Winnemucca. Federal land managers, they argued, fast-tracked the project and did not adequately consider a number of issues in its environmental review — the mine’s footprint on wildlife habitat, groundwater, air quality and Indigenous sites.

On Thursday, the project’s opponents had their first opportunity to fully lay out the merits of their case challenging the mine’s federal environmental review. Yet much of the arguments centered around a broader question that has wide-ranging implications for mines across the West: What is the federal government’s proper role when approving and regulating mines on public land?

Policymakers from across the state, and the country, have pushed for developing Thacker Pass, touted as the largest known lithium source in the United States, arguing that it is needed to help fuel an economy less reliant on fossil fuels and more on lithium-ion batteries. Although the plan was approved at the end of the Trump administration, the Biden White House has continued to focus on procuring a domestic supply of “critical minerals,” and has defended the mine in court. …

Debate over the Thacker Pass mine has become a focal point in a national conversation about how the administration should balance sometimes competing priorities — bolstering the supply chain for an energy transition away from fossil fuels, protecting biodiversity and advocating for environmental justice.


Plaintiffs in the case have challenged the mine on several other grounds, alleging that federal land managers did not adequately consider air quality standards, groundwater concerns or fully evaluate the potential impact on wildlife, such as Greater sage-grouse and pronghorn antelope.

On Thursday, attorneys for the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the Burns Paiute Tribe argued that federal land managers did not conduct government-to-government consultation with them, when in fact they had a responsibility to do so. In the environmental review process, federal land managers did consult with three tribal governments, relying on geographic proximity, affirmative expressions of interest and historic ties to the area as factors for guiding its consultation plans.

But Rick Eichstaedt, an attorney for the Burns Paiute Tribe, said the federal government should have broadened its reach by consulting the Burns Paiute Tribe in Oregon and the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony — and giving more consideration to how tribal nations currently view the land.

“Tribes still exist,” he said. “And they care about this area. That’s why we’re here.”

Anyway, I thought it was an informative article on a very complex issue.

1 thought on “Where Biodiversity, Tribal Views and Climate Mitigation Meet -And Disagree.. The Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Case”

  1. America ships millions of tons of salvage material to India and Asia to be recycled tearing up our own ground mining for virgin minerals while steel, copper and rare earth metals are still being buried in landfills.

    But, the General Mining Law of 1872 enables Australian miners like Jervois Global to gouge ore containing cobalt from the homelands of the Nimíipuu or Nex Perce at a Superfund site near the Frank Church Wilderness in Idaho. At Harshaw, Arizona, South32 Ltd. is ripping into Sobaipuri O’odham and Hohokam ancestral lands at the old Hermosa Mine for manganese and nickel.

    Ores containing lithium are hideously carbon intensive to mine and the 1872 law allows foreign companies to exploit public lands instead of sharing the pecuniary rewards with Indigenous former landowners.

    In my home state of South Dakota, British Columbia-based United Lithium has staked some 500 claims, some on Bureau of Land Management ground near Pringle, where lithium bearing pegmatites are already being quarried for potassium feldspars and micas.

    In 1951 after uranium was discovered south of Pringle more than 150 uranium mines were gouged into the Earth where the Oglala Lakota once made their winter camp. Since then, radioactive tailings from those mines have been detected in Angostura Reservoir after a dam on the Cheyenne River broke in 1962.

    In 2017 Rare Element Resources said its mine in the Wyoming Black Hills just upstream of the South Dakota border on ancestral Apsáalooke and Lakota lands at the headwaters of the Redwater River, a tributary of the Belle Fourche/Cheyenne, announced financial backing from General Atomics and applied for enough water for the mineral separation process despite widespread contamination in Crook County wells. But some decommissioned coal fired power plants in the Cowboy State are being remediated in part by harvesting needed minerals from coal waste.

    Urban sprawl, accelerated global warming and drought are reducing productivity on the remaining grasslands of the High Plains and Mountain West so if some Republicans are angry about conservation that means it’s the right thing to do.


Leave a Comment