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News / Northwest

Judge won’t block digging at lithium mine

Mine planned on land 25 miles south of Nev.-Ore. border

By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press
Published: July 26, 2021, 5:46pm

RENO, Nev. — A federal judge has denied environmentalists’ request for a court order temporarily blocking the government from digging trenches for archaeological surveys at a mine planned near the Nevada-Oregon line with the biggest known U.S. deposit of lithium.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du said in an 11-page ruling late Friday in Reno that four conservation groups failed to prove the trenches planned across a total of one-quarter acre would cause irreparable harm to sage brush that serves as critical habitat for imperiled sage grouse.

She said she plans to rule later this week on a request from a Nevada tribe to join the legal battle as a co-plaintiff and seek a similar restraining order based on claims the digging would disturb sacred burial grounds.

Du emphasized she has placed the overall case on an expedited schedule and intends to issue a ruling on the merits by early next year. She noted any construction of the mine itself is unlikely to begin before the snow melts in the spring of 2022.

“Given the limited, speculative evidence of imminent harm plaintiffs presented, they have failed to meet their burden to show they will be irreparably harmed in the absence of a preliminary injunction as the parties await the court’s merits decision,” she wrote.

Lithium Nevada Corp.’s proposed Thacker Pass mine is emerging as a battleground in the debate over environmental trade-offs tied to President Joe Biden’s push for renewable energy.

Lithium is a component in electric vehicle batteries.

Opponents say the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated several environmental laws in a December rush to approve the mine in the final days of the Trump administration.

The mine is planned on 28 square miles of federal land above an extinct volcano formed millions of years ago about 25 miles south of the Nevada-Oregon line.

Global demand for lithium is forecast to triple by 2025, Lithium Nevada said in recent court filings. The proposed mine is the only one in the nation on the drawing board that can help meet that demand, the company said.

Western Watersheds Project, Great Basin Resource Watch and others said in their lawsuit filed earlier this year that some of the region’s most essential and irreplaceable sage grouse habitat could be lost if the mine is built.