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The nation’s largest lithium mine may be going up in a site sacred to Native Americans

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“The reality,” McKinney said, standing on the property amid an old sagebrush, “is that once this whole thing disappears behind me and there’s a big hole, everything will get away with it.”

‘Sacred Sites’

From 1975 to 1987, Chevron USA began exploring the McDermitt Caldera in Thacker Pass, the crater of a dead volcano, in search of uranium. It found lithium.

Ten years ago, as demand for lithium increased, Lithium Americas launched its own investigation at the site and began taking the necessary steps for federal and state approval of a mine on public land. It says it started too contact with the local communityassured the residents of Northern Nevada that it would make a good environmental manager, creating 1,000 jobs during construction and then 300 full-time jobs in the mine itself.

When asked about its contacts with Native American groups during the period the mining project was in development, Lithium Americas listed dozens of local group encounters, including four separate face-to-face meetings with the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe between 2017 and 2020. encounters with other Native American groups are noted, although three events have been noted at Winnemucca, more than 50 miles from the mining site, where the Winnemucca Indian colony is located.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Lithium Americas said: “The benefits of our project, particularly jobs and economic development, will and must be felt in those communities, and we have remained committed to answering all questions about our development.”

Part of the approval process was to have the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, which owns the property, conduct an environmental impact assessment. In addition to projecting the mine’s effects on air, water and soil, federal law requires the agency to ask nearby Native American groups about potential risks to “important religious, spiritual or sacred sites.”

In December 2019, the BLM sent letters to the leaders of the Fort McDermitt Tribe, the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, and the Winnemucca Indian Colony requesting any concerns about the impact on sacred sites. The letters were authenticated, as evidenced by court records, and the agency requested a receipt, meaning it requested confirmation, via email or postcard, that the letters had been delivered. The BLM published its final impact statement in December 2020.

Five days before the Trump administration left office, on January 15, 2021, the BLM approved the Thacker Pass project. In a press releaseEvans of Lithium Americas said the decision was “the culmination of more than 10 years of hard work by the Thacker Pass team, as well as the BLM and other federal, state and local agencies, all of whom have worked tirelessly to fulfill their respective commitments to environmental stewardship.” and community involvement.”

Within four weeks, rancher Edward Bartell filed suit in federal court against BLM, sparking a legal battle that continues to this day.

Bartell claimed that the impact statement did not accurately assess the impact of the mine and acid plant on an area of ​​limited water. All of Nevada suffers from “severe droughtconditions, and the mine would use about 3,000 gallons of water per minute, according to the impact statement. Bartell said the mine would damage its water supply and ranch productivity and pose a threat to trout and bird habitats. The government defended its assessment and methodologies, saying it adhered to protocols.

Environmental groups joined Bartell’s lawsuit, echoing his concerns about water use, pollution and habitat destruction, despite the climate benefits of green vehicles.

“The bottom line is that any mine, especially an opencast mine, will destroy the habitat that is there,” said John Hadder, executive director of the Great Basin Resource Watch, a regional environmental organization. “There is automatically an attack on the environment, so it is by definition not green.”

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