“We just want you to understand what we are seeing is different from what you are telling us”– Gary McKinney, Fort McDermitt Tribal Descendant

On November 18 2021, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) held a public hearing for the proposed Thacker Pass Mine Class (II) air quality permit.  NDEP administrator, Greg Lovato, cut off the public comment due to what NDEP considered “disruptions” from some attendees of the hearing. This hearing marked the end of a 30 day online public comment period. Great Basin Resource Watch’s full comments with concerns can be found posted here (https://gbrw.org/publications/). The state level permits for air, water, and reclamation are required in addition to permitting of the mine plan on the federal level.

Indigenous Peoples, ranchers, agency staff, and staff from Lithium Nevada converged in the auditorium of the Winnemucca Boys and Girls Club with the squeeks of sneakers coming from an adjacent room where a basketball game took place. Indigenous Peoples asserting their inherent rights to ancestral lands and supporting the protection of land and water in opposition of the mine, lined the back of the room. They held signs reading “No Mancamps” and “Protect Peehee Mu’Huh”

Early in the hearing, someone in the back of the room asked, “whose land are we on?”, and stated there should be a land acknowledgement.  NDEP’s lead administrator, Greg Lovato, threatened to cancel the meeting in response. NDEP is not required by law to provide permit hearings but will do so when there is significant public interest. 

Greg Lovato opened the hearing by recalling points made at a previous public meeting; that “NDEP never denies permits”. He characterized it as a “partial truth” in that they only permit projects where all of the agency’s questions are answered. This translates to effectively never denying a permit, but working with corporations to help them pass criteria. 

During a presentation on the technical review of the sulfur dioxide air scrubbers, a Fort McDermitt Tribal descendant asked NDEP staff if they knew what the air scrubber would be made of. The primary material would be teflon which poses health risks. However, NDEP staff could not answer the question at the moment. Other frontline community members asserted that Peehee Mu’Huh is a massacre site, to which Greg Lovato threatened to cancel the hearing a second time within the first 20 minutes.

A public comment period followed the presentation. NDEP staff made it clear that optimal comments should pertain to technical aspects of the permit. In part, this is because community acceptance is not a criteria in permitting air/water pollution in Nevada. So, any comments relating to frontline perspectives or concerns that do not seem to be pertinent to engineering specifics are not considered.  Effectively, the agency is biased towards comments expressed in a technical way. Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone people have unmatched expertise and knowledge in caring for their ancestral lands, yet government agencies devalue Indigenous knowledge in favor of scientific ways of knowing. 

Throughout the comment period, many raised the concern that the function of the agency was to enable corporate pollution. Folks brought up how the air permit is not for the full mine plan that is permitted federally, and thus does not address the realistic scope of impacts. Residents called for more air quality monitoring and sooner. However, the full range of concerns were not expressed at the hearing as it was canceled abruptly by NDEP.

Early in the comment period, a participant criticized the tone of the meeting and how NDEP was threatening to cancel. Many comments highlighted the agency working for corporations not the public, and in a way NDEP supported those claims through their actions.  NDEP staff appeared threatened by some verbal comments from the crowd.  NDEP’s response was to cancel the meeting prematurely, closing off further comments.  It is unfortunate that NDEP staff did not have the skill and maybe not the desire to facilitate the opposition and passion of those in the room.

November 18, 2021 was the last day for comments on the air quality permit.  NDEP will review and by law must respond to what are considered “relevant” comments after which a notice of decision will be posted.  There is a 10 day permit appeal period. 

The next hearing will be for the water pollution control permit and takes place on 12/1/21 at 6:00 pm. This hearing will take place at the Boys and Girls Club of Winnemucca (1973 Whitworth Way Winnemucca, Nevada 89445). Comments on the water pollution control permit may also be emailed to ndepthackerpass@ndep.nv.gov