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Lawsuits are now threatening made-in-America lithium, the mineral that analysts believe is one of the key metals bound to enable the energy transition.
U.S. battery manufacturers and the U.S. Administration, past and present, want to reduce the influence of China in the global supply chain of critical energy minerals such as lithium. In light of this, several projects have been proposed on American soil.
But environmentalists and Native Americans are suing to stop one of those projects, Lithium Americas' Thacker Pass Project in Humboldt County in northern Nevada.
In January, in the last days of the Trump Administration, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued the Record of Decision for the Thacker Pass lithium project, following the completion of the National Environmental Policy Act process. Thacker Pass is 100-percent owned by Lithium Nevada Corp., a U.S. corporation and wholly owned subsidiary of Lithium Americas.
Environmental groups filed in May for a preliminary injunction, asking the federal district court in Reno to prohibit the construction of the Thacker Pass lithium mine because of the fast-tracked approval of the project they say would endanger wildlife in the area.
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The four groups—Western Watersheds Project, Great Basin Resource Watch, Basin and Range Watch, and Wildlands Defense—further argued in May that "BLM failed in its duty to protect public resources by allowing a mine that will be a source of groundwater pollution for at least 300 years and not requiring long-term financial assurances."
On Wednesday, chief judge Miranda Du of the U.S. District Court for Nevada allowed Native American communities to join the lawsuit filed by the environmental groups. The tribes say that the lithium mining project would damage their sacred religious and historical grounds.
Last week, the same judge denied the environmentalists' request for an injunction to stop preliminary mine work at the Thacker Pass lithium project.
"We are disappointed in the court's ruling allowing the company to dig up and remove cultural and historical artifacts, but mine construction is not slated to begin until next year and the court stated that it would rule on the merits of the case by then. Due to the various legal errors in the BLM's review and approval of the mine, we look forward to briefing on the merits of the case in the coming months," said Western Watersheds Project attorney Talasi Brooks.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com