Surprising Lawsuit Causes Major Setbacks for Lithium Mining Company

Michael Bordonada
Published Nov 14, 2023

In modern times, mining is an essential but highly controversial industry. Though mining allows people to access all sorts of valuable items, it also causes widespread environmental damage. A recent lawsuit could have far reaching effects on the future of mining.

Nevada Rancher Files Lawsuit Against Government for Allowing the Mining

Lithium Americas Corp is a major lithium mining company that extracts the material used in a variety of batteries. Last year, they announced plans to start a new mine in north Nevada. The proposed Thacker Pass mine is a mine on federal lands, so the mining company had to get approval from the government before proceeding. Though the Bureau of Land Management approved the plans in December of 2020, many Nevada residents were unhappy with their decision.

In February, one Nevada rancher decided to try to stop the project with a lawsuit. Edward Bartell of Bartell Ranch sued the Bureau of Land Management, saying they would be violating environmental laws and damaging his own property if they allowed the mining to occur. A major cause for concern is the potential changes to the water table which could turn Bartell Ranch and other private land into a desert.

Bartell's lawsuit alleges that the Bureau of Land Management did not do proper research before allowing the mining plan to proceed. The lawsuit claims that Lithium Americas Corp presented "grossly inaccurate, incomplete, and inadequate data for constructing baselines and models purporting to estimate impacts to water resources."

In addition to not doing their own independent research, the Bureau may have ignored previous research that found a mine would damage the water table and the protected greater sage grouse living in the area. Therefore, the lawsuit requests that the government do further research and rethink the mining permits given to Lithium Americas Corp.

Lithium Americas Corp Announces Plan to Delay Mining Due to Lawsuit

Until the lawsuit has decided whether the mining can proceed, Lithium Americas Corp has chosen to delay their mining plans. When the lawsuit was first announced, Lithium Americas Corp decided to speed up their plans to mine the site. They initially said they would begin digging on June 23, which is far earlier than they initially planned.

Opponents to the mine then filed a request for a temporary injunction. Before the court could officially order them to stop mining, Lithium Americas agreed to pause their digging plans. Court documents now indicate they will not plan to start digging until the end of July. Chief Judge Miranda Du from the federal court in Reno is currently considering an injunction that would block all digging until the main case is resolved in late 2021 or 2022.

Mining Lawsuit Results in Major Disagreements Among Environmentalists

The Thacker Pass mining lawsuit has been particularly controversial among environmentalists. In most cases, environmentalists would rally to save the habitat of a protected animal and avoid further contamination of the Nevada water table. However, some feel that the bigger picture benefits are worth some environmental damage.

The reason for all this controversy is the fact that lithium is essential for producing electric vehicles. Supporters of the mine point out that the lithium would allow more Americans to switch to electric vehicles. This would cut back on emissions, and it would reduce the amount of wasted energy involved in shipping in gasoline from foreign countries.

Conservationist Glenn MIller, the founder of the Great Basin Resource Watch, has resigned from his environmental group due to the debate. Miller explains, "Everyone is deeply concerned about climate change. It's a question about values, and I go with the need for lithium."

Delays May Cause Problems for Nevada

The delay in beginning mining may do more than just impede electric car production. It also will keep Nevada from getting highly-anticipated jobs and tax revenue. The mine is projected to produce 1,000 temporary jobs during its construction and 300 permanent jobs once it is operational. Furthermore, plans predict it could provide up to $75 million in state and local tax revenue

Ultimately, this lawsuit brings up many interesting questions. In addition to the environmental debate, the delay or prevention of the mine may have a long lasting impact on the Bureau of Land Management. If Bartell wins his lawsuit, it may pave the road for further lawsuits meant to block unpopular Bureau of Land Management projects.

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