The interpretation of a 150-year-old mining law could be a part of whether a U.S. District Court judge upholds the federal government’s approval of a massive lithium mine — a project that has faced challenges from a local rancher, environmental groups and Native American tribes.
In legal briefs over the past two years, the mine’s opponents have challenged federal permitting of the planned Thacker Pass mine north of Winnemucca. Federal land managers, they argued, fast-tracked the project and did not adequately consider a number of issues in its environmental review — the mine’s footprint on wildlife habitat, groundwater, air quality and Indigenous sites.
On Thursday, the project’s opponents had their first opportunity to fully lay out the merits of their case challenging the mine’s federal environmental review. Yet much of the arguments centered around a broader question that has wide-ranging implications for mines across the West: What is the federal government’s proper role when approving and regulating mines on public land?
Policymakers from across the state, and the country, have pushed for developing Thacker Pass, touted as the largest known lithium source in the United States, arguing that it is needed to help fuel an economy less reliant on fossil fuels and more on lithium-ion batteries.