President Biden calls for an electric vehicle revolution, while his environmental base opposes lithium mining in Nevada.
A major element in Biden’s “green agenda” is a push to replace gasoline-powered cars with electric vehicles (EVs) that run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
Biden set an expensive and onerous goal of 50% of all U.S. vehicle sales to be electric by 2030. California and New York states mandated an even more extreme approach – no new diesel or gasoline cars can be sold after 2035.
In 2022, all electric vehicles represented only 5.8% of new vehicle sales.
Demand for lithium is expected to triple by 2030. Lithium-ion battery sales now total $41 billion. They’re projected to be $115 billion in 2030.
Despite holding 10% of the world’s known reserves, the U.S. produces only 1% of the world’s lithium. The one active U.S lithium mine is located in Nevada’s Clayton Valley in Esmeralda County.
That mine, operating since 1967, employs 85 people and produces lithium carbonate from 22 enormous evaporation ponds which concentrate the lithium. It makes 5,000 tons annually, but that’s a very small quantity of the lithium required.
Lithium comes from other countries, including Australia and Chile, but China is the world leader in lithium chemical processing and battery production. The U.S. needs to end our reliance on China for lithium.
There are two main lithium sources: a salty brine pumped out of the ground and spodumene, a mineral contained in hard rocks, dug in open pits.
The Biden administration is heavily subsidizing EVs while at the same time blocking U.S. mineral projects needed to produce them.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland walled off much of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest from mining. It contains one of the world’s largest undeveloped mineral deposits, including copper, nickel and cobalt that are also needed in vast quantities for EV batteries.
An Australian mining company, Ioneer Ltd., has been stuck in permitting purgatory and the courts for over two years related to their proposed open-pit lithium mine at Rhyolite Ridge in Esmeralda County.
Ioneer had hoped to begin mining by 2026, with the site able to produce enough lithium to support production of 370,000 electric vehicles annually for decades.
The project would infuse rural Esmeralda County and surrounding central Nevada with a much-needed economic boost, creating 400-500 construction jobs, and 200-300 operating positions.
While the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $700 million conditional loan to Ioneer on Jan. 13, the project still faces major hurdles.
It must still develop a plan to protect the Tiehm’s buckwheat, a 6-inch-tall flowering plant that only grows on 10 acres in western Nevada. Last year, Biden’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared it “endangered.”
Environmentalists sued to protect the plant and promised on Jan. 13 to do so again.
“We’ve sued or initiated lawsuits over Tiehm’s buckwheat four times already, and we won’t back down until every buckwheat is saved,” opponents vow.
Another new Nevada lithium mining project is proposed for Thacker Pass in Humboldt County near the Nevada-Oregon border.
On Jan. 31, General Motors Co., conditionally agreed to invest $650 million in Lithium Americas Corp., a deal that would give GM exclusive access to the proposed mine near McDermitt. It’s the largest known source of lithium in the U.S.
Lithium Americas promises 300 permanent jobs paying an average salary of $62,000.
It’s contingent on the Thacker Pass project clearing final and still-pending legal hurdles in federal court in Reno. For two years, opponents have challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the mine.
Environmentalists make disputed claims the mine will destroy habitat for sage grouse, trout, pronghorns, and golden eagles, pollute the air and create toxic water beneath the open-pit mine.
Some local Paiute and Shoshone tribal leaders say it will destroy nearby sacred lands. Other tribal leaders argue its economic benefits will lift the next generation.
E-mail Jim Hartman at email@example.com.