State issues environmental permits for controversial Nevada lithium mine

The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection has issued final air quality, water pollution control and mining recovery permits to Lithium Nevada Corp., the company proposing a lithium mine controversial at Thacker Pass in northern Nevada.

The proposed mine sits on 5,700 acres of public land north of Winnemucca near the Oregon border.

“The mine is a chance for them to be able to start construction” in regards to the NDEP, according to NDEP Administrator Greg Lovato. “It just allows them to start building from the perspective of the NDEP. This does not take into account other approvals they need from other agencies. »

The NDEP announcement brings Lithium Nevada closer to advancing the mine, although some permits are still pending and federal permits already issued for the mine are tied to litigation.

Lithium Nevada is still awaiting approval from the state water resources division to transfer water use rights from agriculture to mining. A hearing was held in December after Bartell Ranch LLC and King River Land and Cattle Co. LLC challenged the transfer. Both sides have until March 8 to submit their closing arguments to the state. DWR will review the arguments and render a decision by November 3.

Additionally, native tribes and environmental groups have filed lawsuits against the Bureau of Land Management for licensing the mine, alleging the BLM violated acts including the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. The BLM granted its permits in early 2021.

These groups argue that the mine was fast-tracked through the review process and will destroy critical habitat and encroach on sacred lands of Native Americans.

Lithium Nevada and other mining advocates counter that the region’s abundance of lithium, a natural metal essential to the production of everything from cellphones to electric vehicle batteries, is key to reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. and tackle the global climate emergency.

NDEP approval allows Lithium Nevada to operate only above the water table. Mining below the water table, as the company had previously proposed, would degrade the area’s water quality due to the geography of Thacker Pass, according to Lovato.

The restriction will shorten the proposed life of the mine, previously estimated at nearly 50 years, according to Lovato. However, Lithium Nevada may resubmit a new proposal for mining below the water table which would be subject to a full review process.

The Thacker Pass mine consists of open pit lithium mining and processing operations that combine ore crushing, acid leaching and processing methods to produce lithium carbonate, which would be processed into products battery grade lithium.

The proposed mine includes an acid leaching plant; the plant will also produce steam for the mine. As part of the aerial permit, the mine will be required to operate a continuous emissions monitoring system for its sulfuric acid plant. Residents will see no degradation in air quality, according to NDEP Deputy Administrator Jeff Kinder.

The NDEP has also asked Lithium Nevada to set aside more than $47 million for landscape revitalization once mining is completed in the area.

Amy Alonzo covers the outdoors, recreation and environment for Nevada and Lake Tahoe. Contact her at [email protected] Here’s how you can support ongoing coverage and local journalism.

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