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Lithium America’s Thacker Gets Green Light, Despite Opposition

A U.S. federal judge has ruled that Lithium Americas (TSX: LAC) may begin excavation work at its Thacker Pass lithium project in Nevada.


A U.S. federal judge has ruled that Lithium Americas (TSX: LAC) may begin excavation work at its Thacker Pass lithium project in Nevada, denying a request from environmentalists who said the digging could endanger local wildlife such as sage grouse, golden eagles, and wild sheep. 

The ruling is a rare win for US-based mining projects as environmental groups have persistently pressured US courts and regulators to block domestic mining projects, even if they produce the metals and minerals necessary for the energy transition from fossil fuels and secure domestic supply. 

Chief Judge Miranda Du of the federal court in Reno, Nevada said the environmental groups did not meet the legal threshold for issuing an injunction to stop early stage mine work, digging, and trenching to survey for historical artifacts. 

However, last Tuesday, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and members of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe asked the court to intervene in the case, claiming violations of the National Historic Preservation Act.

If the court allows the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and Fort McDermitt members, ​​Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu, or People of Red Mountain, to intervene, they could seek their own injunction, adding further delays to the project. 

Du has asked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for permitting the archeological work, to wait on the work which was expected to begin as early as July 29, until those news motions are adjudicated. This could set archeological work back by weeks. 

On May 20, 2021, descendants of the Fort McDermitt published a statement as “People of the Red Mountain - Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu'' outlining their connection to the land and opposition to the mining operation. 

The People of the Red Mountain stated that their tribe are the descendants of two families who, hiding in Thacker Pass, managed to avoid being sent to reservations away from their ancestral lands and hence that this tribe owes its existence to the shelter provided by the Pass.

In the meantime, Judge Du still has to answer the broader question of whether former President Donald Trump’s administration made a mistake when it approved the project in January. Du said she will try to publish her decision by early 2022.

The area that would be affected by the excavation amounts to less than a quarter of an acre on the ~18,000 acres of the Thacker Pass Project. 

Additionally, Du said, environmental groups could not prove what specific damage would be caused by the digging, only hypothetical guesses. Environmentalists “failed to meet their burden to show they will be irreparably harmed,” Du said.

According to the Nevada Independent, there are protesters camped at the mine site that are prepared to take direct action to prevent activity by the mining company. An attorney for Lithium Americas disclosed in court last Wednesday that the company plans to put a trailer and fencing in the project area for the safety of employees.

The company, in a statement, said it plans to work with Native American tribes as it conducts the excavation work, a prerequisite for starting construction on the mine site. 

According to the company’s website, the Thacker Pass lithium project hosts 3.1 million tonnes of Lithium-Carbonate Equivalent at 3,283 ppm Li and could produce 60,000 tonnes of battery-grade lithium-carbonate every year for 46 years. 

Lithium Americas is also developing the Cauchari-Olaroz lithium project in Jujuy Province in north-west Argentina. The project is in the Salar de Olaroz and Salar de Cauchari, adjacent to Orocobre Ltd.’s Olaroz facility, which has been in production since 2015. 

[Sources: Reuters, Nevada Independent, People of Red Mountain, Lithium America’s Corporate Website]

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