Located in an extinct supervolcano, the Thacker Pass lithium deposit is the largest known lithium resource in the United States. And once Lithium Nevada commissions its surface mine, it will be expected to billions in net income and millions in tax revenue.
It will also destroy Peehee Mu’huh, a site sacred to the Fort McDermitt tribe, devastate the local environment and displace farmers and ranchers in the area, John Hadder, the director of Great Basin Resource Watch (GBRW), a group mining watchdog,” The Epoch Times told.
Despite this, earlier this year permits for the Thacker Pass lithium mine project were approved on an accelerated schedule.
Exact estimates vary, but it is generally accepted that the electric vehicle (EV) market will be worth trillion soon. And because most electric vehicles rely on lithium-ion batteries, mining this element is lucrative to say the least – some estimates put the value at $94.4 billion by 2025.
However, at present, the United States is heavily dependent on China for minerals, which the Biden administration admitted constituted a threat to the economy and national security.
Therefore, President Joe Biden directed in the United States to increase domestic mineral production to combat the threat and capitalize on the electric vehicle boom. Enter Lithium Americas subsidiary, Lithium Nevada Corp. (LNC), and Thacker Pass.
Originally discovered in 1975, Thacker Pass is located in Humboldt County, northern Nevada, and is estimated to contain 3.1 million tons of lithium carbonate equivalent. 3.1 million tonnes equals over 6.8 billion pounds.
More importantly, once fully operational, Thacker Pass will produce 60,000 tons per year (tpa), or about enough to manufacture 6 million electric vehicles per year.
In December 2020, LNC issued its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which declared that Lithium Nevada plans to “build and operate an open-pit lithium mine”.
Some of the effects found by the EIS to understand contaminating groundwater with higher than accepted levels of antimony, arsenic, sulfate, and total dissolved solids (TDS), destroying 5,695 acres, and lowering the water table by 10 feet. Hadder pointed out that these estimates are conservative because the analysis came from the mining contractor.
Additionally, the EIA found that the mine would desecrate 52 historic or prehistoric sites but, as a positive, would generate over $8.2 million in taxes in Phase I (construction and initial operation) and in Phase II. (fully functioning), nearly $9.2 million. in the generation of taxes.
As a result of the EIS, the Nevada Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) expedited LNC’s Thacker Pass permits. This is despite strong reactions from the community and Native American tribes in the area, which Hadder claims is abnormal.
“The federal NEPA process was completed in less than a year. Normally the NEPA process is in the range of 3-5 years if all goes well and there is little or no public concern,” Hadder said.
“Mining operations are highly destructive to the environment and disruptive to nearby communities, so the mining permit process should be done carefully and judiciously with rigorous analysis of environmental effects and mitigation approaches. mitigation.”
The community disputes its destruction
Working to protect their land and resist LNC development, northern Nevada ranchers and organizations like GBRW have filed lawsuits, alleging the BLM and LNC sped up approval processes, ignored environmental impact and violated the complainant’s rights.
In Bartell v. Ester M. McCullough/Bureau of Land Management, Plaintiff Edward Bartell sharp that his ranch held multiple federal grazing permits and had private ranch land and water rights that the lithium mine threatened.
“The mine could affect their ability to farm and ranch in the area. Air quality will decline and there will be continuous traffic of trucks transporting materials to and from the mine, and increased water scarcity is likely. It is entirely possible that these farmers and ranchers will eventually sell their properties to the mine and family farming will cease in the area,” Hadder confirmed.
In Western Watersheds Project, Great Basin Resource Watch, Basin and Range Watch and Wildlands Defense v. United States Department of the Interior/US Bureau of Land Management, plaintiffs’ attorneys declared:
“In the rush to implement the project, defendants violated federal environmental laws and swept the mine’s serious environmental impacts under the rug.”
Incidentally, Hadder asserted, “Lithium mining is not the climate-saving solution it is being touted for. Mining…is a driver of climate change. … There is more to climate change than just carbon emissions. It is the change in land use, the loss of biodiversity and the loss of the system to repair itself under stress.
“Mining exacerbates all of these other aspects of climate change while taking away large swathes of healthy environments that function as carbon sinks. Many of these mine sites will never be reclaimed and will remain a toxic legacy of mining on the landscape,” Hadder said.
In an interesting twist, LNC’s plan to operate an open pit mine means that the Thacker Pass project will use the same mining techniques as coal deposits. It’s okay too produce 132,588 tons per year of greenhouse gas emissions during Phase II. For comparison, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
However, unlike coal, once mined, clay lithium ore must undergo a further process of acid leaching to separate the lithium from the clay. According CNLthe lithium ore must be “crushed, screened, then transferred as a slurry to the leaching circuit where sulfuric acid will be added to fix the ore and release the lithium from the clay”.
This requirement, which is also alluded to in the EIA, will have a significant environmental impact, says Hadder.
“The sulfuric acid plant will be a source of air pollution – particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide as well as the usual volatile organic compounds. Once the ore has been leached and the lithium extracted, only tailings remain which will be acidic and a potential source of water pollution for an indefinite period, potentially a hundred years or more.
Moreover, according to LNC report, among other things, the Thacker Pass lithium mine would require 2,600 acre-feet of water per year in Phase I and 5,200 acre-feet per year in Phase II. This represents approximately 847 million gallons of water per year and nearly 1.7 billion gallons of water when the mine is fully operational.
The water would come from the Quinn-Production well in the Orovada sub-area watershed which, Hadder sharp to The Epoch Times and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, is already overused by 30,271 acre-feet per year.
Historic Trauma, Revisited
Environmental impact is an element to consider with Thacker Pass, but it is not the only one.
On June 16, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments, adopted a resolution titled “Supporting Indigenous Safety through Opposing Man-Camps for Thacker Pass”, which details one of the reasons they oppose the Thacker Pass mine.
Just 15 miles from the border of the Paiute and Shoshone tribal reservations of Fort McDermitt is Peehee Mu’huh, a sacred site with a bloody history.
From time immemorial, the Paiute and Shoshone peoples have cared for, cultivated and lived in Peehee Mu’huh. But, in 1865, while the hunters were away, a party of American cavalry descended on unprotected women, children and elders.
When the hunters revenue“they could smell something rotting. They soon came across a massacre, their elders, wives and children lying in the old sagebrush with their entrails dragged across the landscape in the crescent-shaped pass section looking east This is how the area earned its Aboriginal name: Peehee Mu’huh or “rotten moon,” says Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Tribe member Daranda Hinkey.
Moreover, the reason for the massacre, according to oral tradition and NCAIit was that the United States wanted the natural resources of the region.
Since the massacre, the inhabitants of the Paiute and Shoshone tribes have regarded Peehee Mu’huh as a sacred and spiritual burial place and have honored it with ceremonies.
In an official statement opposition to the mine, the Red Mountain People, a group of Native Americans formed to protect their ancestral land, said, “Building a lithium mine on this massacre site at Peehee Mu’huh would be like building a lithium on Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery.
So far, legal efforts and resolutions have failed to stop LCN’s lithium mine from moving forward with its plan to destroy Peehee Mu’huh.
Peehee Mu’huh is Paiute. In English it is translated as Thacker Pass.