Great Basin Resource Watch as part of a coalition of citizens’ conservation and public accountability groups (Great Basin Resource Watch, Western Watersheds Project, Basin and Range Watch, Wildlands Defense) filed today in the Reno Federal District Court challenging the decisions of the United States Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to approve the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project (Mine). Thacker Pass in northwestern Nevada at the southern end of the Montana Range, beloved by the nearby ranching and farming communities of Kings River and Orovada, connects important sage-grouse populations, represents a key wildlife migration corridor, and is home to many sensitive species including endemic springsnails species.

“I am opposed to the Lithium mine being proposed for Thacker Pass,” said Wendelyn Muratore, Kings River Valley resident and member of Great Basin Resource Watch. “The impacts to our air quality, destruction of wildlife and habitat, dumping of hazardous chemicals, tightening of our water supply, increase in traffic at 75 semi trucks per day, and damage to our ranching and farming should make one stop and rethink this mine. Our communities along with our way of life and livelihoods should not be made to suffer in the name of ‘progress.”

The Interior Department put the Mine on an “expedited” track to “streamline environmental review” and provide for quick approval by the Trump Administration. On January 15, 2021—five days before the end of the Administration—Ester M. McCullough, BLM district manager for the Winnemucca District Office, approved the Mine and its Plan of Operations in a “full force and effect” decision effective immediately. In the rush to implement the Mine, Interior Department violated federal environmental statutes and swept under the rug serious environmental impacts likely to result from the Mine as proposed and brought to their attention by Plaintiffs, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Agency, and members of the public.

“The reckless permitting of the Thacker Pass lithium mine sets a bad precedent for the Energy Transition.” said John Hadder, Director of Great Basin Resource Watch. “An example of getting the permit over good public process and addressing environmental and community concerns. Frontline communities like King River Valley and Orovada, Nevada that would shoulder effects of mining deserve an independent analysis of the mine and ask if all is being done to minimize the need for these raw materials.”

According the mine and explorations plan of operation proposed lithium project by Lithium Nevada Corp.:

  • a large open pit would be excavated roughly 2.3 miles long by about half a mile at the widest
  • move 17.2 million tons of rock and ore per year (phase 2)
  • An estimated 5,694 acres disturbed from the Project area of 17,933 acres.
  • On-site sulfuric acid plant – 5,800 tons of acid per day during phase 2
  • Ultimately pumping up to 1.7 billion gallons of water per year
  • Estimated lifetime of the mine is 41 years and 5 years of reclamation
  • Would produce 33,000 tons of lithium carbonate equivalent per year at the beginning then doubling to 66,000 tons

According to the complaint the Record of Decision by the BLM violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

BLM failed to ensure compliance with the Winnemucca Resource Management Plan (RMP) and the applicable RMP for protection of the Greater Sage Grouse as required by FLPMA. The Mine would fragment “essential irreplaceable habitat” for sage-grouse in already vulnerable populations, by allowing destructive development in sage-grouse habitats that exceeds limits established in the RMP.

BLM admitted that the Mine will not meet the RMP’s Visual Resource Management (VRM) Class II protection standards. Instead of initiating the required process to change the Resource Management Plan, requiring an 90-day review, BLM merely ignored its own Resource Management Plan in violation of FLPMA.

The Project will destroy nearly 5,000 acres of pronghorn winter range for the life of the mine or longer, and 427 acres of summer range. It will also sever two critical pronghorn movement corridors that facilitate access between limited use and winter range habitat to the south of the Project area and winter range, summer range, and year-round habitat to the north of the Project area.

Other vulnerable and protected species that will be significantly affected include Golden Eagles, various amphibians and springsnails dependent on the riparian areas and springs that will be dewatered or destroyed by the Project, and several sensitive plant species.

Plaintiffs further argue that BLM failed in its duty under NEPA and FLPMA to: fully determine background/baseline conditions; analyze mitigation measures and their effectiveness; analyze direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts; ensure compliance with air and water quality standards and protect public resources; address the need for perpetual active treatment of water pollution.