Lithium is the miracle element powering your smartphone and under the hood of every electric car. But will batteries save the planet or cause more harm? The controversy is heating up in Nevada.
RENO, Nevada — Activists aiming to stop an open-pit lithium mine launched a permanent protest encampment last Friday. They invite supporters to join them.
Despite winter conditions at Thacker Pass, the site of the proposed $1.3 billion Lithium Americas mine, protestors have erected tents, a wood stove, and protest signs. Lawyer Will Falk, who is on site, says they mean to stay for as long as it takes to protect this old-growth sagebrush mountainside.
“Environmentalists might be confused about why we want to interfere with the production of electric car batteries,” says Falk. “But, it’s wrong to destroy a mountain for any reason – whether the reason is fossil fuels or lithium.”
Activists are prepared to remain in place and block all construction, mining, and road-building activities until Lithium Americas abandons their plan to destroy Thacker Pass. They are demanding:
- The establishment of a protected area at Thacker Pass preserved for the enjoyment of future generations, for wildlife including the Kings River pyrg, and for water quality;
- An immediate abandonment of the Thacker Pass lithium mine project by Lithium Americas corporation; and
- A sincere apology from Lithium Americas Corporation for claiming that Thacker Pass is a “green” project.
The Thacker Pass mine proposal, located roughly 130 miles northeast of Reno, is one of a handful of large mining and energy projects fast-tracked by the outgoing Trump administration in what a December article in the New York Times called an “intense push” to “find ways to increase domestic energy and mining production.”
Though Lithium Americas claims they “strive to build a business where the well-being of the local community is essential to its success,” this fast-tracking comes despite objections from local residents, ranchers, and environmental groups, who are concerned about project impacts on wildlife and rural quality of life.
Project documents detail potential harm to many species.
- The threatened Greater sage grouse, whose populations have been reduced by between 97% and 99% from historic levels, and for whom the Thacker Pass area represents the best remaining habitat in Nevada. Thacker Pass is located in the Lone Willow population management unit, which is home to between 5 and 8% of the entire global population. This project would sever a key connectivity corridor between portions of the habitat;
- Lahontan cutthroat trout, a federally “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act which exists in only a small fraction of its historic range, including the Quinn River basin downstream of Thacker Pass;
- Pronghorn antelope, whose migration routes would be severed by the mine; and
- A critically imperiled endemic snail species known as the Kings River pyrg that is known to reside in only 13 isolated springs. According to one group of scientists, “the Thacker Pass Project area might contain the entire known population of Kings River pyrg, thereby putting the species at risk of extinction.
Other species who will be harmed by the project include Burrowing owls, Golden eagles, several bat species, native bees and other pollinators, Crosby’s Buckwheat, and rare old-growth big sagebrush. Impacts on the community include increases in heavy truck traffic, noise and light pollution, air quality issues, and reductions in the water table.
Lithium Americas has already built roads, drilled boreholes, constructed a weather station, and dug a 2-acre test pit. They plan to build large tailing ponds for toxic mine waste, drill new wells, build a sulfuric acid processing plant, import more than 170 semi-loads of sulfur (a byproduct from oil refineries) per day, pump 850 million gallons of water annually, and dig an open pit of more than 2 square miles into the pristine Thacker Pass mountainside.
Despite claims this will be a “carbon neutral” mine, the project will burn some 26,000 gallons of diesel fuel per day.
The encampment went into place on Friday, the same day the Bureau of Land Management handed down the permit for the mine. For now it is home to only a few people. But Max Wilbert, another organizer of the protest and author of Bright Green Lies, a book looking at the environmental harms of renewable energy projects, expects that more people will come as the weather improves.
“Many see Nevada as a wasteland,” Wilbert says. “But in truth it’s one of the last wild places left. Where else can you find silence, clean air, starry nights, and solitude? As soon as people spend time in these wild lands, they fall in love with them, and want to protect them.”
Join the Occupation
For more information, to support the campaign, or to join the occupation, visit www.ProtectThackerPass.org. Feel free to reproduce this press release in your publication.