An effort by a coalition of conservationists and tribal leaders to block the construction of a lithium mine along the Nevada–Oregon border was denied by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 17.
Opponents of the project had been attempting to appeal the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's earlier decision, arguing that the massive project will destroy sacred tribal lands and violate multiple environmental laws.
Additionally, they argued that federal land managers had fast-tracked the project without having consulted with Native American tribes.
However, the court said the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) approval of the project was "not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with NEPA," referring to the National Environmental Policy Act.
"First, the BLM properly addressed cumulative impacts in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Proposed Thacker Pass Project with a cumulative effects chapter that provided more than just vague and conclusory statements," the judges wrote.
"The FEIS included cumulative effects study areas for 20 resources with supporting data, included a 'Past and Present Actions' section that identified 'past and present development projects and other actions' in the study area, and included a 'Reasonably Foreseeable Future Actions' section that identified other development predicted in the area," they wrote. "Additionally, the BLM quantified impacts for many resources, including air quality."
Tribes Raise Religious, Cultural ConcernsThe FEIS also contained a "reasonably complete discussion of possible mitigation measures for groundwater pollution, wildlife impacts (such as mitigation efforts for migratory birds, raptors, big game, nongame, and special status species), air pollution, and groundwater quantity, in compliance with NEPA," they continued.
Along with a string of other measures taken by the BLM, federal land managers also took a "hard look at impacts on cultural resources" via research, conducting intensive pedestrian inventories and by "consulting three Tribes, which did 'not raise any concerns about specific traditional areas, sacred sites, or ceremonial areas or activities in the Project area,'" the judges wrote.
"The BLM’s identification of tribes for consultation was not arbitrary or capricious and did not violate NHPA, because the BLM reasonably and in good faith identified tribes for consultation," they continued. "There was no evidence before the BLM that suggested that the Burns Paiute Tribe attached religious or cultural significance to sites in the Project area."
The project is situated at the southern end of the McDermitt Caldera.
Electric Vehicles, China CompetitionPresident Joe Biden has continued to push for the mining project—which is being constructed by Canada-based Lithium Americas—during his time in office amid an effort to transition from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy and reduce dependency on China.
Lithium is one of the many raw materials needed to make electric vehicle (EV) batteries, which the Biden administration has touted heavily as part of a goal to ensure half of all new vehicles sold in 2030 are zero-emission.
Currently, China is the largest EV battery manufacturer in the world, with more than half of all lithium, cobalt, and graphite processing and refining capacity located in the country.
"We have always been confident that the permitting process for Thacker Pass was conducted thoroughly and appropriately," Mr. Evans said. "Construction activities continue at the project as we look forward to playing an important role in strengthening America's domestic battery supply chains."
The plaintiffs in the case said they are weighing whether to appeal the latest ruling.