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Resistance to Lithium America’s plans to dig an essential part of the energy transition at Thacker Pass in Nevada shows that âcleanâ energy could face the same challenges as fossil fuels.
Have you ever heard of the Thacker Pass? It is in Humboldt County Nevada, west-northwest of Orovada, Nevada in the McDermitt Caldera. The caldera is approximately 28 miles (45 km = miles) long north-south and 22 miles (35 km) wide east-west.
There are significant deposits of ore buried in the caldera, particularly mercury and lithium, which have been mined at more than eight sites in the caldera during the 20th century. The McDermitt Mine, located at the eastern end of the Nevada Caldera, was the last active mercury mine in the United States before it closed in 1992.
The Thacker Pass lithium deposit
The lithium deposits contained in the ancient caldera – estimated at 13.4 million tonnes of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) – put it at the forefront in opposition to Lithium America’s plans to exploit the element.
Plans to dig for the item known as “white gold” have met a wave of resistance from tribes, ranchers, residents and activists who say they believe the repercussions of the mine will win out. on lithium’s contributions to the country’s transition to less polluting energy sources. than fossil fuels.
In January 2021, during the last days of the Trump administration, the United States Bureau of Land Management approved the Thacker Pass Lithium project, granting Lithium Americas, a multinational corporation based in Vancouver, B.C., and to its subsidiary, Lithium Nevada, the exclusive rights to mine there.
But, here’s something interesting – despite its name, and the fact that it is also developing a lithium mine in Argentina, Lithium Americas’ majority shareholder is the Chinese company Ganfeng Lithium, considered the third largest producer of this element in the world.
According to the proposed plan, the project covers 17,933 acres and will include a surface mine and a sulfuric acid plant to process lithium from the raw ore.
Thacker Pass’s mining operations will emit 152,713 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the emissions of a small town, according to its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). About 1.7 billion gallons of water will be consumed each year – 500,000 gallons of water for every tonne of lithium – in an arid region experiencing worsening drought.
Lithium America claims to have established environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards to meet the growing global demand for sustainability in business, but they do not specify their metrics or methodologies for these.
Efforts to block the lithium mine
Since the end of January 2021, there has been a camp of environmental and tribal activists protesting against the project to exploit Thacker Pass for its âgreenâ technologies.
Let’s talk about the Native American tribes in the region. Several tribes have cultural ties with the region. Thacker Pass, known as Peehee Mu’huh, or “rotten moon,” the Paiute name of a place made sacred by the bones of his ancestors takes its name from two massacres that took place there many years ago.
Generations ago, the Paiute people were slaughtered there by members of a warring tribe. Later, a second massacre took place: on September 12, 1865, the 1st Nevada Cavalry snuck into a Paiute camp in the Thacker Pass area before dawn and murdered dozens of men in cold blood. , women and children.
The massacre is described in government investigative documents, contemporary news articles and eyewitness accounts. There was one adult survivor – Ox Sam.
“We are all descendants of a survivor,” Daranda Hinkey, a 23-year-old member of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone tribe in northern Nevada, told Grist. “We feel like we were meant to be here at the time, fighting for the land.”
Along with local tribes, state and national organizations representing Native Americans have spoken out against the lithium mine, citing the land’s cultural, historical and spiritual importance.
The Bureau of Land Management sent letters to four neighboring tribes advising them of the mine during the federal environmental clearance process in late 2019 and 2020, however, none of these tribes responded to the notifications.
“We won’t be leaving until this project is canceled,” said Max Wilbert of the Protect Thacker Pass campaign. âIf so, it will come down to direct action. We want to get between the machines and this place.