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Environmentalists sue over lithium mining in Nevada

The Silver State's vast lithium deposits are coveted by the government as a resource for electric vehicle batteries.

LAS VEGAS (CN) — America’s quest to rid itself of fossil fuels and move toward electric vehicles is clashing with environmentalists who are trying to protect areas proposed for lithium mining.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Amargosa Conservancy filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management on Friday challenging the agencies' approval of exploratory mineral drilling near the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Rover Metals, a Canadian mining exploration company, has proposed drilling 30 boreholes on public lands just north of Ash Meadows to conduct exploration for a possible lithium mine. Some of the proposed drill sites are less than 2,000 feet from springs in the refuge that form critical habitat for endangered pupfish and other endangered and endemic species.

“First of all, the problem with the situation is not that it’s lithium. It doesn't matter what material is being mined, whether it’s lithium, gold, cobalt, kryptonite, you name it, in this situation the proposed mining activity is simply too close to an area of remarkable biodiverse importance. A protected refuge home to over 25 species that live nowhere else,” said Mason Voehl, executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy.

“So regardless of what that mineral is, we can’t let the end-use of that mineral dictate how we conduct our environmental analysis. And we can’t let that pressure to extract that mineral sort of overshadow the importance of the impact it could have on the adjacent communities and the refuges in particular,” he said in an interview.

Ash Meadows is a lush oasis in the Mojave Desert where dozens of springs form expansive wetlands. The wildlife refuge harbors 25 species of fish, plants, insects and snails that are found nowhere else on earth.

Twelve of these species are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Nevada, with its vast supplies of lithium, is ground zero in the effort to mine the mineral, a key ingredient in making batteries for electric vehicles.

“Clearly all around the U.S., especially in Nevada right now, Nevada is the epicenter of focus for creating that domestic supply of lithium. We are rich in lithium in Nevada. That being said, clearly that is having an influence on the decision making in this case. We should acknowledge the reality that, of course lithium is an increasingly important mineral in this transition to a de-carbonized energy economy,” said Voehl.

But he said the “urgent rush” for a domestic supply can’t run roughshod over the environment. According to Voehl, there is a dire need to set certain areas out of bounds for mining, “regardless of what the lithium potential is."

The center and Amargosa Conservancy say in their lawsuit that the Bureau’s approval of the project would result in “unnecessary and undue degradation” of public lands resources and potentially catastrophic threats to endangered species.

“We need lithium as a part of our transition off of fossil fuels, but it can’t come at the expense of biodiversity or our most precious protected areas,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Some places have to be off-limits to resource extraction, and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is at the top of the list. We’re taking this action to save Ash Meadows.”

The plaintiffs both said BLM’s process of greenlighting the mining project was improper and that the agencies did not hold any public meetings on the issue. They ask in the lawsuit for a judge to pause drilling and order the BLM to protect endangered species and conduct an environmental review.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from community members that they don’t want lithium mining at Ash Meadows,” said Voehl. “Our organization was founded to defend the Amargosa River. We’ve never joined a lawsuit before, but we’re taking this extraordinary step today in recognition of the extraordinary threat faced by Ash Meadows.”

Ash Meadows is one of the oases along the Amargosa River, one of the most biodiverse places in North America.

The Bureau of Land Management could not be reached for comment by press time.

Categories / Business, Energy, Environment, Government

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