Jim Hartman: Nevada lithium mining roadblocks to Biden’s EV revolution

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman

President Biden’s “green agenda” pushes to replace gasoline-powered cars with electric vehicles that run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

Biden set an expensive and onerous goal of 50% of all U.S. vehicle sales be electric by 2030. In 2022, all electric vehicles represented only 5.8% of new vehicle sales.

Demand for lithium is expected to triple by 2030. Processed-lithium demand will far outstrip supply unless the mining industry dramatically expands production.

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.

Despite holding 10% of the world’s known reserves, the U.S. produces only 1% of the world’s lithium.

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.

The only active lithium mine in the U.S. is located in Nevada’s Esmeralda County, Clayton Valley. Operating since 1967, the Silver Peak mine produces lithium carbonate from 22 enormous evaporation ponds. It makes a fraction of the lithium required.

Ioneer Ltd., an Australian mining company, has been stuck in permitting purgatory and the courts for over 2 ½ years for their proposed $1 billion open-pit mine at Rhyolite Ridge in Esmeralda County.

While the U.S. Department of Energy announced a $700 million conditional loan to Ioneer in January, the project still faces major hurdles.

Environmentalists have sued to protect the Tiehm’s buckwheat, a six-inch-tall flowering plant that grows on 10 acres in western Nevada. The plant has been declared “endangered” and the company has an extensive mitigation plan to protect it.

Ioneer has just started undergoing a one-year environmental review.

The company hopes to begin mining by 2026 on the Rhyolite site projected to produce at least four times the current domestic supply.

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.

Another new Nevada lithium mining project is proposed for Thacker Pass in Humboldt County near the Nevada-Oregon border.

Lithium Americas Corp., a Canadian company, is trying to build the largest – $2.2 billion – lithium mine in the U.S. near McDermitt.

In January, General Motors Co., conditionally agreed to invest $650 million in Lithium Americas Corp, a deal that would give GM exclusive access to the mine.

Lithium Americas promises 300 permanent jobs paying an average salary of $62,000.

For nearly three years, the Bureau of Land Management faced challenges from environmentalists, tribes and ranchers who wanted to overturn their approval of the Thacker Pass mine.

Environmentalists claims it will destroy animal habitats, pollute the air and create toxic water beneath the open-pit mine were refuted.

Some local Paiute and Shoshone tribal leaders say it will destroy nearby sacred lands. Other tribal leaders support its economic benefits.

Initial construction began on the Thacker Pass mine in March after U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du in Reno upheld the B.L.M. plan permitting it. A three-judge federal panel heard appeals in June.

The Biden administration is heavily subsidizing EVs while at the same time blocking U.S. mineral projects needed to produce them.

Biden supported NASA’s request that 36 square miles above a vast proven untapped brine-based lithium deposit in Nye County’s Railroad Valley be closed to mining, claiming the desert area is necessary to calibrate satellites.

In March, Biden invoked the 1906 Antiquities Act to unilaterally designate 506,814 acres (an area 2/3rds of Rhode Island) as the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Southern Nevada.

That designation locks up a huge area near the Arizona and California state lines from development, blocking Nevada clean-energy projects and mining operations.

Gov. Joe Lombardo slammed the White House for not consulting with his administration before taking the action.

E-mail Jim Hartman at lawdocman1@aol.com.


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