9th Circuit denies emergency bid to halt Nevada lithium mine

RENO, Nev. — A federal appeals court has cleared the way for Nevada to build the largest lithium mine in the US as it considers claims by conservationists and tribes that the government illegally approved it to rush construction. and raw materials for electric vehicle batteries.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday denied a request for an emergency injunction that would have prevented a subsidiary of Lithium Americas from breaking ground near the Oregon line this week on the third-largest known lithium deposit in the world.

Lawyers for the mining company and the Biden administration said in court filings Tuesday that further delays undermine efforts to curb climate change as the 2-year legal battle continues. and demand continues to grow for the essential component of batteries for electric vehicles.

The Thacker Pass mine reserves, expected to begin production by the end of 2026 about 200 miles (322 kilometers) northeast of Reno, will support lithium in more than 1.5 million electric vehicles annually within 40 years, the company said.

“There are no other US alternatives to Thacker Pass that will provide lithium at the scale, grade or timeline needed to begin closing the gap between the lithium available and the lithium needed to meet clean energy and energy goals.” of transportation in the US,” its lawyers wrote.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco-based court scheduled accelerated filing deadlines until April on the merits of the appeal but the four-page ruling did not explain its rejection of the order.

Environmentalists and tribes trying to block the project support efforts to stabilize lithium supplies to make electric car batteries and replace fossil fuels with renewables but they say this particular mine will destroy important wildlife habitat and sacred cultural values.

Opponents of the Lithium Nevada Corp. project. filed an emergency appeal in the 9th Circuit on Monday after US District Judge Miranda Du in Reno rejected their latest request to stay the case until a San Francisco-based appeals court hears their appeal.

Du ruled on February 6 that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management complied with federal law — with one exception — when it approved plans for the mine in January 2021. On Friday, he denied a request for an injunction pending appeal.

Judge Du “reasonably weighed the public interest and balance of damages, saying that lithium from this mine is a critical component of electric vehicle batteries, and thus an important domestic resource for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Biden administration officials representing the BLM in court. filings on Tuesday.

Billions of dollars in investments are at stake in a legal battle ahead of so-called green energy development in the nation’s largest gold-producing state.

Neighboring California — the nation’s largest auto market — plans to end sales of new gas-powered cars and trucks for more than a decade, boosting demand for batteries in the de -electric car.

A Nevada rancher filed the first lawsuit in early 2021 seeking to block a 5,000-acre project with an open-pit mine as deep as a field.

Several Native American tribes tried unsuccessfully to persuade Judge Du that the development would destroy sacred cultural values ​​tied to the nearby area of ​​a massacre of dozens of their ancestors in 1865.

A half-dozen conservation groups say habitat critical to the declining sage grouse, pronghorn antelope, threatened cutthroat trout and others could be lost forever because of the project. The groups say the Bureau of Land Management rushed without doing enough environmental assessment in the final days of former President Donald Trump’s administration.

“Together, these voices paint a powerful picture of the values ​​at stake from the project that (Lithium Nevada) is now trying to greenwash,” the opponents’ lawyers wrote in court briefs late Thursday. .

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