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Lithium Mining for Electric Vehicles Creating Tension

Lithium mining in northern Nevada

Luis Gutierrez/NortePhoto.com

The proposed Thacker Pass lithium mine in northern Nevada, the largest in the U.S., has passed a review by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and construction of mining facilities could begin later this year. But unhappy residents and conservation groups are filing lawsuits. Lithium Nevada expects to pump up to 5,200 acre-feet of groundwater per year, and critics say this may draw down groundwater levels and affect soils, streams and springs. In addition, other expected environmental impacts include groundwater pollution and detrimental impacts to sensitive wildlife. 

The challenge is to quickly transition the U.S. economy to carbon-free energy sources by acquiring the vast mineral resources needed, such as lithium, cobalt and nickel for batteries, without endangering biodiversity or the health of nearby communities. John Hadder, executive director of Great Basin Resource Watch, one of the environmental nonprofits suing BLM over the Thacker Pass mine, says, “There is a lot of pressure to extract materials for what we consider to be the new energy economy, but we have to do it in a way which isn’t business as usual.” The goal is to get the federal government to do a more thorough review of the project so that the surroundings won’t become an arid, polluted wasteland.

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