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Judge declines to block Nevada lithium mine but says feds violated law

FILE — In this July 14, 2021 file photo the Montana Mountains loom over Thacker Pass in northern Nevada. A pair of lithium mines and a geothermal power plant in the works in Nevada are among the most ambitious projects at the forefront of the Biden administration’s “green” energy agenda. The three ventures at various stages of development in the biggest U.S. gold producing state also are shining a spotlight on the hurdles ahead. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)

A federal judge has ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to redo parts of an environmental analysis for a planned lithium mine in Nevada but rejected a request by environmental groups to block the project outright.

In her ruling Monday evening, U.S. District Judge Miranda Du, an Obama appointee, ruled that BLM must analyze the impact of waste rock dumping at Lithium Americas Corp.’s planned mine at Thacker Pass.

However, Du also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the project would threaten sage grouse populations and aquifers and violate the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, and that the bureau also did not properly consult tribal stakeholders who are among the plaintiffs in the case.

“The Court will remand for BLM to fix the error — to determine whether Lithium Nevada possesses valid rights to the waste dump and mine tailings land it intends to use for the Project,” she ruled. “But the Court declines to vacate the [Record of Decision] pending BLM’s review of the mining plan of operations portion of the Project.”

In a statement, Western Watersheds Project, one of the plaintiffs, expressed disappointment at the green light for the project but called it a victory that BLM will have to demonstrate lack of environmental harms.

“We don’t know yet what the next steps will be, but we know we won’t stop fighting this destructive mine,” Greta Anderson, deputy director of Western Watersheds Project, said in a statement. “We need to find truly just and sustainable solutions for the climate crisis, and not by digging ourselves deeper into the biodiversity crisis.”

The company also struck a positive note in response to the decision.

“We are pleased that the Federal Court has recognized the BLM’s decision to issue the Federal Permit, reflecting our considerable efforts to ensure Thacker Pass is developed responsibly and for the benefit of all stakeholders,” Lithium Americas President and CEO Jonathan Evans said in a statement. “The favorable ruling leaves in place the final regulatory approval needed in moving Thacker Pass into construction.”

The U.S. currently has only one operational lithium mine despite substantial lithium reserves, which will be vital to meet increasing demand for electric vehicle batteries. Environmental activists have warned a heavy-handed approach could introduce new environmental issues even as it seeks to address the carbon emissions from the automotive sector.

Tags environmental assessment lithium Thacker Pass

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