A Nevada rancher is suing federal regulators over approval of the Thacker Pass lithium mining project plotted for rural Northern Nevada, alleging it violates environmental laws and undermines changes he has made in his own livestock grazing practices to help threatened fish and wildlife.
Edward Bartell and Bartell Ranch LLC allege the Bureau of Land Management relied “entirely upon flawed and error-laden findings” in environmental assessments prepared by the mine’s own contractor, according to the lawsuit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Reno.
According to the Associated Press, Bartell’s suit alleges the project will lower the groundwater table, harm the federally protected Lahontan cutthroat trout and imperiled greater sage grouse and “transform much of our private lands into barren desert.”
The $1.3 billion open pit mining project entails the manufacturing of high-purity lithium chemicals as a byproduct of mineral processing near Thacker Pass in northern Humboldt County near Orovada, roughly 50 miles north-northwest of Winnemucca.
The project is owned by Reno-based Lithium Nevada Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Vancouver-based Lithium Americas Corporation.The BLM gave final approval to the project in January, with Winnemucca BLM District Manager Ester McCullough saying, "The Thacker Pass Mine will provide a long-term solution for the growing need for lithium while providing economic benefits for Humboldt County, especially around Orovada, McDermitt and Winnemucca."Not long after the Jan. 15 BLM approval, activists aiming to stop the project launched a permanent protest encampment at the site. Lawyer Will Falk, who is among the protestors on site, said they mean to stay for as long as it takes to protect the old-growth sagebrush mountainside.Alexi Zawadzki, CEO of Lithium Nevada, defended the project in a statement to the AP last week.
“The environmental analysis confirmed the proposed mine would be constructed and operated in an environmentally responsible manner, and we are confident that the full environmental review and mitigation measures included in the (bureau’s decision) will address the concerns raised by this judicial review,” he said.
Bartell’s suit alleges the company’s consultants “relied upon grossly inaccurate, incomplete, and inadequate data for constructing baselines and models purporting to estimate impacts to water resources” caused by groundwater pumping associated with the mine, according to the AP.
“BLM has wholesale ignored the inconsistency of the mine with BLM’s sage grouse plans and associated regulations,” the lawsuit said, noting the project borders one of Nevada’s largest remaining populations of greater sage grouse.
Per past reports, full-scale construction on the mine was slated to begin this year, with the company projecting the third quarter of 2022 as an estimated target date to start production.
It’s projected to produce 1,000 jobs during construction and 300 full-time jobs once completed, generating $75 million in state and local tax revenue over a decade.