In the name of lithium

The history of the industrial era is one of colonization and extraction. This continues today, as we who work to protect the land know well.

The film In the name of lithium is a documentary about the struggle of Argentine indigenous communities to prevent their salt flats, which contain one of the largest lithium reserves in the world, from becoming a “sacrifice zone” in favor of reduction of climate change.

The film is free to watch on Vimeo through August 9. You can turn on subtitles for English if you do not speak Spanish.

As an article about the film notes, Lithium Americas, in partnership with Chinese company Ganfeng, is constructing a lithium mine in Jujuy, one of the locations where the film was made. An investigation by Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN) found that Minera Exar (an Argentine company formed by Lithium Americas and Ganfeng Lithium and dedicated to the development and production of lithium in the Salar Cauchari-Olaroz) failed to provide free and informed consultation with indigenous communities who own territory where Minera Exar’s lithium project is located. According to statements gathered from community members in FARN’s investigation, Minera Exar also failed to disclose relevant information on risk factors and potential environmental impacts.

Thacker Pass / Peehee Mu’huh is just one of so many industrial sacrifice zones around the world. Remember too, that along with lithium, EVs and batteries require copper, cobalt, graphite, bauxite, nickel, and rare earth metals, all of which require sacrifice zones.

Stand with us, stand with People of Red Mountain, stand with the people in Jujuy, Argentina; stand with all people and lands and wild beings around the world being sacrificed for industry and say NO!

For more information about the film, visit https://enelnombredellitio.org.ar/

Image of the salt flats in the northern province of Jujuy in Argentina by FARN.

Judge to decide whether lithium mine activity can move forward as Fort McDermitt tribal members, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony seek to intervene

July 22, 2021

In front of a federal courthouse in downtown Reno on Wednesday morning, more than 50 people from Indigenous groups across the state gathered in a peaceful protest against the proposed Thacker Pass lithium mine north of Winnemucca. Protesters waved signs at cars driving by.

Their message to those inside the eighth-floor courtroom was clear: “Protect Thacker Pass.” “Consultation is NOT Consent.” “Fort McDermitt Tribal Descendants Against Lithium Nevada.”

U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du’s courtroom was filled on Wednesday with Indigenous activists, environmentalists and employees for Lithium Nevada, the company developing the mine. Company shareholders joined through a phone line.

It was an important hearing for a lithium project at the center of an energy transition away from fossil fuels and toward electrification. Since federal land managers approved the mine in the final days of the Trump administration, it has drawn scrutiny from Native American tribes in the Great Basin, environmental groups and the rural communities that would surround the mine.

The hearing stemmed from a lawsuit, filed by four environmental groups in February. In their suit, the groups challenged the government’s approval of the mine, arguing that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management fast-tracked a key environmental review and did not fully weigh the mine’s impacts. Now they are asking the court to halt mine-related activities until the issue is settled.

At issue on Wednesday was whether the court should grant an injunction — an order that would stop impending archeological digging at the mine site — as litigation proceeds.

As early as next Thursday, July 29, federal land managers had been expected to give Lithium Nevada permission to begin trenching and digging as part of a Historic Properties Treatment Plan to collect and catalogue artifacts. In court filings, the company argued that the work is a prerequisite to installing the water and power lines needed to begin construction in early 2022.

Last week, tribal descendents of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, which is near the mine, held a protest at the Carson City headquarters of Lithium Nevada’s archeological contractor. The group of tribal members, Atsa koodakuh wyh Nuwu, or the People of Red Mountain, left a letter on the contractor’s door and asked to meet with the company.

Talasi Brooks, an attorney representing the environmental groups, said that excavation activities would cause an “irreparable harm” to the winter habitat for Greater sage-grouse, a sensitive bird species that relies on sagebrush, quiet places, and faces multiple threats in the Great Basin.

“There will likely be more sage-grouse mortality because of this habitat destruction,” argued Brooks, a staff attorney for the Western Watersheds Project, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

The public interest, she argued, leaned toward granting an injunction that Brooks said would only cause the mining company a “temporary delay,” even if the court ultimately upholds the environmental review.

The judge, who peppered the attorneys with questions about substantive and procedural claims, plans to rule on the injunction by July 29. But that date is now important for another reason: A new motion could bring additional arguments into the courtroom.

The day before the hearing, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and tribal members from the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe filed a motion to intervene as a plaintiff on the side of the environmental groups. They argue that federal land managers, in approving the mine, violated provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act that require input from tribes and the public.

The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, the motion notes, “attaches cultural and religious significance to historic properties that will be affected by the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project.” The claims in the motion also represent the People of Red Mountain, who consider Thacker Pass sacred, the site of a massacre and a hiding spot when soldiers forced their ancestors onto reservations.

In a brief filed yesterday, lawyers for the groups seeking to intervene in the case said the People of Red Mountain “preserve and pass on oral histories about Thacker Pass (“Peehee mu’huh”), regularly perform ceremonies in Peehee mu’huh, hunt and gather in Peehee mu’huh, plan on performing ceremony, hunting, and gathering in Peehee mu’huh in the future, and are concerned with the Project’s effects on historic properties located within its footprint.

Read the rest at The Nevada Independent. Photo of Gary McKinney, a member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, by David Calvert for The Nevada Independent.

California’s electric car revolution, designed to save the planet, also unleashes a toll on it

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.

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

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.