by Evan Halper for the LA Times

July 21, 2021

A mining permit pushed through in the last week of the Trump administration allows the Canadian company Lithium Americas Corp. to produce enough lithium carbonate annually to supply nearly a million electric car batteries. The mine pit alone would disrupt more than 1,100 acres, and the whole operation — on land leased from the federal government — would cover roughly six times that. Up to 5,800 tons of sulfuric acid would be used daily to leach lithium from the earth dug out of a 300-foot deep mine pit.

Tribal members and some ranchers are fighting the plans, alarmed by details in the environmental impact assessment: The operation would generate hundreds of millions of cubic yards of mining waste and lower the water table in this high desert region by churning through 3,200 gallons per minute. Arsenic contamination of the water under the mine pit could endure 300 years.

Pronghorn antelope roam amid the sage brush that spreads for miles in Thacker Pass, nestled between the Montana and Double H mountain ranges. The sound of fierce winds is interrupted by the occasional call of a brown eagle or screech of a hawk. The Lithium Americas blueprint would transform the pass into a hub of industrial activity.

“Our Indigenous people have been here so long. This is our homeland,” said Daranda Hinkey, a tribal member and secretary of People of Red Mountain, a group of Indigenous people fighting the mine. “We know every mountain in our language. We don’t get to leave. This is our origin story.”

Hinkey, 23, studied environmental policy at Southern Oregon University, examining transportation emissions and climate change and the green economy. “But we did not talk about things like this,” she said. “We never talked about, ‘look at how much they are extracting.’ We talked about sustainability, but this does not seem sustainable.”

Many of the tribal members who gathered for a daylong ceremony on the pass recently shared stories of the fallout from the area’s long history with mercury, gold and silver mining. The tradeoffs for the jobs mining brought to Nevada’s Humboldt County, they said, were cancer clusters, water and air contamination and broken promises to clean up the land.

Now tribal members are working with environmental activists, many of whom are living in a protest camp set up the day the Thacker Pass permit was approved in January.

“They would come in here with explosives, with heavy earthmoving equipment, and they would begin by scraping off everything that we can see here,” Max Wilbert, a leader of the protest camp, said as he gestured toward sagebrush stretching to the horizon.

Read the rest at the LA Times. Photo by Carolyn Cole for the LA Times.