Calling on Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to Protect Peehee mu’huh / Thacker Pass

Tribal Members Aim to Stop Lithium Nevada Corporation From Digging Up Cultural Sites in Thacker Pass

Fort McDermitt, Nevada – As soon as July 29, 2021, Lithium Nevada Corporation (LNC) plans to begin removing cultural sites, artifacts, and possibly human remains belonging to the ancestors of the Paiute and Western Shoshone peoples for the proposed Thacker Pass open pit lithium mine.

According to a motion for preliminary injunction filed by four environmental organizations in the case Western Watersheds Project v. United States Department of the Interior, LNC intends to begin “mechanical trenching” operations at seven undisclosed sites within the project area, each up to “40 meters” long and “a few meters deep.” The corporation also plans to dig up to 5 feet deep at 20 other undisclosed sites, all pursuant to a new historical and cultural resources plan that has never been subject to meaningful, government-to-government consultation with the affected Tribes or to National Environmental Policy Act analysis.

Daranda Hinkey, Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone tribal member and secretary of a group formed by Fort McDermitt tribal members to stop the mine, Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) states: “From an indigenous perspective, removing burial sites or anything of that sort is bad medicine. Our tribe believes we risk sickness if we remove or take those things. We simply do not want any burial sites in Thacker Pass or anywhere in the surrounding area to be taken. The ones who passed on were prayed for and therefore should stay in their place, no matter what. We need to respect these places. The people at Lithium Nevada wouldn’t go and dig up their family gravesite because they found lithium there, so why are they trying to do that to ours?”

LNC’s Thacker Pass open pit lithium mine would harm the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, their traditional land, and traditional foods like choke cherry, yapa, ground hog, and mule deer. It would also harm water, air, and wildlife including sage grouse, Lahontan cutthroat trout, pronghorn antelope, and sacred golden eagles.

Thacker Pass is named Peehee mu’huh in Paiute. Peehee mu’huh means “rotten moon” in English and was named so because Paiute ancestors were massacred there while the hunters were away. When the hunters returned, they found their loved ones murdered, unburied, rotting, and with their entrails spread across the sage brush in a part of the Pass shaped like a moon. According to the Paiute, building a lithium mine over this massacre site at Peehee mu’huh would be like building a lithium mine over Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery.

Land and water protectors have occupied the Protect Thacker Pass camp in the geographical boundaries of LNC’s open pit lithium mine since January 15. Will Falk, attorney and Protect Thacker Pass organizer, says: “Our allies, the People of Red Mountain, do not want to see their ancestors disturbed and their sacred land destroyed. We plan on stopping Lithium Nevada and BLM from digging these cultural sites up.”

On Tuesday, June 15th at 11am PST / 2pm EST, we will be phone banking to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) to ask that she rescind (cancel) the Record of Decision for Thacker Pass, delay the project for consultation, and meet with Atsa Koodakuh wyh Nuwu (People of Red Mountain) to discuss the issues here.

During this phone bank, we will be live streaming a press conference featuring Fort McDermitt tribal members and other concerned people. Please join us by filling out the information on this form and join us to #ProtectPeeheeMu’huh / #ProtectThackerPass!

SIGN UP HERE: https://forms.gle/z4Y2w2dKaw7WMHwE6

Event hosted by People of Red Mountain, One Source Network, Moms Clean Air Force, and Protect Thacker Pass. Please share widely!

Tribe, Ranchers Say Proposed Lithium Mine in Wikieup Will ‘Ruin’ Their Water

Thacker Pass gets a mention in this article in the Phoenix New Times about another proposed lithium mine in Arizona, one that would use the same sulfuric acid leaching process that the Thacker Pass lithium mine would use. It’s also yet another mine threatening the water and land of indigenous people.

“The brewing tension surrounding the project in Wikieup represents a broader fight over lithium mining that is taking place in other states. Increasing use of electric cars and renewable energy has caused demand for lithium to soar, with projections for even more needed in the near future. But some observers are raising red flags, like in Wikieup, about the potential harmful environmental impacts of lithium mines.”

In this case the mining company is Hawkstone Mining, another foreign mining company (Australian, like Jindalee, the mining company that wants to mine lithium just across the OR border from Thacker Pass).

As members of the Hualapai Tribe noted, the mining would disturb their cultural sites (just like the Thacker Pass mine would disturb the cultural sites of the Paiute Shoshone people), and could use up or contaminate ground water in a state in the middle of extraordinary drought.

“There is no water in the state of Arizona. Everyone is fighting for water. Here, in this area, it’s arid and there’s not a lot of water. Whatever water there is here has already been taken by farming and ranching. To allow a big industry to come in that’s going to use tons of water and ruin our water system … then it’s a big problem. This place can’t support something that uses a lot of water, whether it’s lithium or not. We’re all in support of changing our consumption of fossil fuels. But at the cost of the environment just to get that for more cellphones and whatever else, it’s a problem.”
— Hualapai Tribe Councilmember Richard Powskey

Peehee mm’huh / Thacker Pass is a special, unique and wonderful place. AND our effort at Thacker Pass is representative of a growing struggle throughout the American West as mining companies ramp up to meet projected lithium demand for EV batteries and energy storage and an ever-increasing number of devices.

As we said when we began this fight: this is just the beginning. We take a stand at Peehee mm’huh for all the land and water that may otherwise be stolen for lithium for cars and gadgets and technology that we do not “need” to live well on this beautiful Earth.

Join us to #ProtectThackerPass and all the other lands under threat from mining.

Photo of Damon Clarke, chairman of the Hualapai Tribe by Josh Kelety

Interviews on KPFA

Listen to this June 7  interview with Daranda Hinkey and Max Wilbert on KPFA 94.1 Flashpoints. They speak about Peehee mm’huh / Thacker Pass. Thank you Daranda and Max!

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Daranda Hinkey and Will joined the radio show “UpFront” on Berkeley, CA’s KPFA Radio on June 8 to speak about the sacred land Lithium Nevada Corp’s proposed Thacker Pass open pit lithium mine would destroy in northern Nevada. Thank you Daranda and Will!

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A car is not just a car

One of the questions we frequently get at PTP about lithium and EVs is: Will recycling help? That is, can we recycle the various components of batteries and develop a “circular economy” so that we don’t ever need mines like Thacker Pass to mine new materials, like lithium?

While recycling can sometimes be better than mining new materials, there are enough significant problems with recycling and the goal of a circular economy that we do not believe that recycling will make any difference now or in the future in terms of the impacts of cars, batteries, and car culture on the environment. Here’s why.

Growth always outstrips demand

There are currently 1.4 billion cars and other vehicles on the road in the world. Of those, about 11 million are EVs. We know that to supply lithium to meet demand for EVs by 2040 (about 300 million EVs), lithium mining will need to increase forty times. Add in demand for battery storage and that figure goes even higher. And that’s just for the lithium. Li-ion batteries also include metals like cobalt, nickel, graphite, iron, aluminum, and manganese, all of which must be mined and refined.

Even if we were able to recycle all the current Li-ion batteries in the world right now, the supply of materials from recycling would make up only a tiny fraction of what is demanded by the market. Given that Li-ion batteries have a limited lifespan, the demand for materials will only increase as more and more batteries are deployed, age-out, and require replacement. Recycling rates for Li-ion batteries currently run at less than 1% because the batteries are extremely difficult to recycle (see more below). Sourcing new materials costs a lot less than recycling the old materials. So for lithium recycling to make sense, not only does the recycling technology need to improve, the economic incentives for recycling need to change. This is all a monumental task.

The recycling process is toxic and loses materials

Even if a robust recycling system is in place, new materials will always be needed because materials are always lost in any recycling process. Recycling rates for battery materials such as lithium, aluminum, cobalt, nickel, and copper run between 30-70% depending on the material, the battery, and the recycling process. A recent article by renewable energy researcher Alexander Dunlap states:

Lithium, for Li-ion batteries, has a particularly low recycling rate, less than 1%. Between 2017-2030, it is expected that there will be 11 million tons of spent lithium ion batteries in need of recycling (Sovacool et al., 2020). This relates to material losses in recycling processes, which includes the technical or economic feasibility to recover the suitable quality of material from the recycling process (Hund et al., 2020). The WB [World Bank] report states that Aluminum has a 42-70% EOL [End Of Life] and 34-36% RC [Recycled Content] rate; Cobalt has a 68% EOL and 32% RC rate; Copper has a 43-53% EOL and 20-37% RC rate; and Nickel has 57-63% EOL and 29-41% RC rate (Hund et al., 2020: 25). Recycling rates will vary according to technological changes, valuation and institutional regulations.

* End of Life (EOL): How much of a mineral is recycled at the end of its use in a product; Recycled Content (RC): % of secondary material that goes into end-use demand for a mineral.

The loss of raw materials in the recycling process means replacing current batteries always requires new material, and that building more batteries to handle the growth in demand will therefore also require new materials.

Aside from the loss of materials, the process of recycling the metals in a battery is extremely toxic and energy intensive. A recent article in Science magazine describes the process:

[R]ecyclers rely on two techniques, known as pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy. The more common is pyrometallurgy, in which recyclers first mechanically shred the cell and then burn it, leaving a charred mass of plastic, metals, and glues. At that point, they can use several methods to extract the metals, including further burning. “Pyromet is essentially treating the battery as if it were an ore” straight from a mine, Gaines says. Hydrometallurgy, in contrast, involves dunking battery materials in pools of acid, producing a metal-laden soup. Sometimes the two methods are combined.
Each has advantages and downsides. Pyrometallurgy, for example, doesn’t require the recycler to know the battery’s design or composition, or even whether it is completely discharged, in order to move ahead safely. But it is energy intensive. Hydrometallurgy can extract materials not easily obtained through burning, but it can involve chemicals that pose health risks. And recovering the desired elements from the chemical soup can be difficult, although researchers are experimenting with compounds that promise to dissolve certain battery metals but leave others in a solid form, making them easier to recover. For example, Thompson has identified one candidate, a mixture of acids and bases called a deep eutectic solvent, that dissolves everything but nickel.
Both processes produce extensive waste and emit greenhouse gases, studies have found.

Direct recycling, whereby the battery is disassembled and the materials in the battery are retrieved directly, is also being developed. However, this process is extremely labor intensive, toxic, and retrieves even less of the original material. The same Science magazine article quoted above describes how a battery module can take 2 hours to dismantle, and the glues holding everything together in the module must be dissolved with solvent “so toxic that the European Union has introduced restrictions on its use, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined last year that it poses an ‘unreasonable risk’ to workers.”

EVs and batteries enable an unsustainable lifestyle

Whether recycling batteries for EVs ever becomes viable is ultimately beside the point, because a car is not just a car. As we’ve seen a car demands mining, not just for the batteries but for all the parts that make up a car, which includes plastic, made from fossil fuels; steel, made from iron ore and refined with coal; and electronics, requiring many of the same metals found in a battery, and more. We all know the impacts from fossil fuel mining, and we know that metals mining produces at least 50% of the toxic pollution released into the environment.

A car demands infrastructure, like roads, parking lots, tires, maintenance, and all that goes with that. We know that tires are responsible for a huge amount of microplastics that pervade and poison the environment, found from Antarctica to the Arctic and everywhere in between (everyone on Earth now eats, drinks, and breathes microplastic everyday). We know that roads, made from concrete and asphalt—both completely dependent on and made with fossil fuels—fragment habitat, kill huge numbers of humans and non-humans, cause erosion and run-off, and must be perpetually maintained to allow vehicle traffic. Some countries are using recycled plastic mixed in with concrete and asphalt for new road materials, ensuring that this plastic will contaminate the environment for eons. A 2018 study found 21 million km of roads exist in 222 countries (mostly in the wealthy countries), and estimates another 3 – 4.7 million km of roads will be built by 2050.

A car demands that we use it, and an efficient car demands that we use it even more. As Max Wilbert describes in his book Bright Green Lies, a car that gets 1 mpg is much better for the environment than a car that gets 100 mpg because if you have a car that gets 1 mpg it’s unlikely you could ever afford to drive it. EV makers love to promote how efficient their cars are, meaning they are cheaper to own and drive long term than a gas-powered car. Access to more efficient cars means more people will drive more, putting more pressure on the environment, requiring more roads and road maintenance, and increasing how often the components of that car—like the batteries and tires—will need to be replaced.

And a car demands that we travel. What’s the point of having a car if we don’t use it to go places? The problem here is that we use cars to take us away from our communities, to become tourists in places we don’t live. Communities become dependent on tourism to bring money into their economies, which then forces communities to do whatever they can to attract more tourists. These tourists put pressure on the environment in communities, as tourists inevitably buy more, increasing overall global consumption, and visit the “beautiful” places, harming them in the process. Tourism drives up home prices, often pricing out land and homes for locals. As many of us have seen, over time, tourism can destroy the very nature of a place, thus destroying what attracted people there to begin with.

The way forward

All of us in developed countries like the United States (possibly the most car-centric culture in the world) have grandparents or great-grandparents whose families did not have cars when they were born. Almost no one had a car until the 1908 Ford Model T became available for purchase by the masses. And even then, most people did not have a car until many years later. Traveling more than a few miles was an arduous journey, so people mostly stayed home, and lived their entire lives in the communities where they were born, surrounded by their families and friends. We don’t need to travel the world; we just think we do. Our great-grandparents got everything they needed to live from their community’s immediate surroundings, with only a few goods shipped from afar by ships and trains. We don’t need a global shipping industry for food and goods; we just think we do, and we’ve structured our lives with the assumption that this global shipping industry will continue to exist, despite the horrific impact that industry has on the natural world and human well-being.

Rather than attempting to justify more lithium mining with some future imaginary circular economy that is unlikely to ever exist, we could accept instead that we need another way. Our current way of life—the one we were born into, the one that allows us to travel halfway across the world in a mere few hours, the one that allows us to drive across the U.S. in just a few days, the one that allows us to access previously inaccessible wilderness via new roads and 4-wheel drive cars, the one that allows us to commute an hour to and from work, the one that allows us to eat strawberries shipped from Mexico in January—this way of life cannot continue because it depends on ever-more resource extraction and destruction of the living world.

So how do we move forward knowing this? We reclaim the joys of our local communities, of local food, and staying close to our families and friends. We rejoice in the staycation rather than the international trips, in the opportunities to work with and for our own communities rather than for multinational corporations. We work to restore local ecosystems and re-wild where we can so the land where we live provides for our needs once again. We educate ourselves in the local ecology so we can understand how we human animals fit into the web of life that embraces us, and how we can care for those with whom we share that web, those with whom we are completely interdependent.

Many people believe they can’t live without cars. But all humans lived without cars until a mere 113 years ago, and we can do so again. A world without cars is a quieter, slower, and more wonderful world, not just for humans but for everyone.

Conclusion

Continuing to maintain car-culture is, ultimately, a dead-end. Lithium, and the other metals and minerals required to build cars and batteries are all non-renewable, meaning eventually we will run out of those materials, just like we will run out of fossil fuels (and already have run out of the easily accessible fossil fuels). Recycling lithium specifically, as well as the other metals and materials in batteries, is currently not a viable solution to the ever increasing demand for these raw materials. If we continue to believe that replacing gasoline cars with EVs is how we will solve the climate change crisis and deal with rapidly depleting easily accessible oil, we will continue to see a huge expansion in the mining necessary to meet the demand for battery materials. This expansion means we will see many more places like Thacker Pass destroyed in the process. All of these places are home to someone already, whether that someone is sagebrush plants and the sage-grouse dependent on them, the trees and all the life those trees support, or the humans who happen to live on land rich with these “resources” as mining companies call them. All will be sacrificed in the rush to build more batteries and more cars—unless we can stop them.

Join us. Let’s stop them, and then create a better way forward, together.

Stop Calling Green Energy ‘Clean’

by Cayte Bosler, June 9, 2021 for Columbia Climate School

I wake at a destined deathbed. Unheeded truths hang like a pall in the air.

At first I smile, cradled in a dusty tent, surrounded by the wintering grounds that belong to the many beings of Thacker Pass in Northern Nevada. Meadowlarks perform their morning songs: pure whistles that descend to gurgling warbles. I delight in how they greet the sun that is sending its first showers over the snow-laden Santa Rosa mountains. The century-old sagebrush becomes more upright; their fragrant wands drink in the slanted light. Spiders, who make a living when night pours in, find sleep in the shrubby branches. Pronghorn antelope nurture their yearlings, cloaked in the flowering mountain faces where golden eagles nest into the certainty of stone. This vitality beckons the dawn of day. Each morning is new, fresh, and full of wildlife conspiring to live.

But thoughts of death are never far. The meadowlarks’ songs will be lost to the whir of machines.

Under the steppe is one of the largest known lithium resources in the world, enough to account for an estimated one-fourth of the global demand.

….

The activists camping out at Thacker Pass potentially face state-sanctioned force and legal repercussions now threatening others throughout the United States who protest extractive projects. Bills to increase punishment for impeding the operations of extractive infrastructure are sweeping the country in response to a public surge of resistance and protest, like the opposition to the proposed expansion of the Line 3 pipeline, which marshals oil from Canada’s tar sands to the United States.

To those I speak with at the camp, it’s worth the risk to fight for a place the greater culture has sacrificed. The ecologies and wildlife corridors for rare birds, mountain lions, porcupines and many more remain intact — a rarity, given that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction driven largely by degraded and ruined habitat. The planet loses an estimated 200 species a day with no signs of this hemorrhaging slowing down. Extractive industries like mining account for 80% of species loss.

Part of the problem is when harms are concealed in premises about the “greater good.” To be clear, the greater good at Thacker Pass is a big batch of electric cars for the privileged, at the expense of safe drinking water for animals, Indigenous and ranching communities and anyone in proximity. Over its projected 46-year span, the mine is expected to draw billions of gallons of groundwater in an already water-stressed region, potentially contaminating it with metals including antimony and arsenic, according to the final environmental impact statement. The study also shows the mine would likely exceed Nevada state limits for water pollution.

Read the full article at Columbia Climate School.