In the waning days of the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) granted Lithium Nevada Corporation the final permit needed to begin developing a lithium mine and processing plant on 5,700 acres of federal land in Northern Nevada, near its border with Oregon and Idaho.
Upon completion, the Thacker Pass lithium mine would become the second operating lithium mine in the United States.
Lithium is used in rechargeable batteries found in cellphones, electric cars, and laptops, among other electronics. The BLM says the demand for lithium is growing as electric cars are more widely adopted and federal and state governments increasingly support the use of wind and solar industrial facilities while limiting the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation. Lithium batteries can provide an alternative source of power to regulate the flow of and to replace when necessary the electricity from intermittent and variable wind and solar power plants, in absence of coal or natural gas plants as sources of back-up power.
Securing Critical Minerals
Lithium is one of 35 minerals identified by the federal government as being critical to U.S. national security and the economy on a list developed under the Trump administration.
“‘Critical minerals’ are identified as essential to the economic and national security of the United States, the supply chain of which is vulnerable to disruption, and that serves essential functions in the manufacturing of products,” wrote the BLM in is record of opinion concluding the Thacker Pass mine could be developed without unduly harming the environment.
“Alternative A is not anticipated to affect any threatened or endangered species or significant scientific, cultural or historical resources, as these resources are either not present or the effects will be mitigated,” BLM said in its record of decision.
Ensuring a secure lithium supply was one of the priorities called for in a June 2019 Trump administration plan, “A Federal Strategy to Ensure a Reliable Supply of Critical Minerals,” developed to make America’s economy and defense more secure. Trump issued an executive order “Addressing the Threat to the Domestic Supply Chain from Reliance on Critical Minerals from Foreign Adversaries,” part of which directed the U.S. Department of the Interior to locate domestic supplies of the listed critical minerals and expedite permitting for their production.
The BLM determined the Thacker Pass mine is consistent with that goal.
“Under the Trump Administration’s leadership, we are developing reliable domestic sources of lithium and other critical minerals, keeping the United States’ manufacturing capacity competitive and maintaining our nation’s technology and national security edge,” said Casey Hammond, principal deputy assistant secretary of the interior for Land and Minerals Management, in a statement released in early December 2020 when BLM’s final environmental impact statement was published. BLM issued the mining permit shortly thereafter
Jobs and Long-Term Security
The BLM reports the Thacker Pass area is home to the largest known lithium resource in the United States.
There is enough lithium at the mine site to meet all of the United States’ domestic needs for decades, Tim Crowley, vice president of government and community relations with Lithium Nevada, said in an online discussion of the mine with lawmakers. Crowley said the mine site contains so much accessible lithium America will even be able to export lithium to allies and trading partners,
“We have a very special deposit, … one of the biggest on the planet,” Crowley told lawmakers. “The mine life is long.
“We can say with certainty it’s at least 40 years long, and we can say with some high probability that it will go far beyond that,” said Crowley.
The company estimates the mine will employ approximately 1,000 people during construction and 300 employees when fully operational.
“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,” Ester McCullough, BLM’s Winnemucca district manager, said in a statement.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.