RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists are seeking an emergency court order to block construction of a Nevada lithium mine after a U.S. judge directed a federal agency to revisit part of its approval of the plans but allowed construction to go forward in the meantime.
Four environmental groups want U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno to temporarily halt any work at a subsidiary of Lithium Americas’ mine near the Oregon border until they can appeal her ruling earlier this month to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
They filed on Tuesday a formal notice of their intent to appeal to the circuit court in San Francisco and an emergency motion for injunction in Reno pending the appeal.
“This mine should not be allowed to destroy public land unless and until the Ninth Circuit has determined whether it was legally approved,” Talasi Brooks, a lawyer for the Western Watersheds Project, said Tuesday.
Lithium Americas didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The company said in a statement last week that construction at the mine was “imminent” after Du ruled Feb. 6 the Bureau of Land Management had acted legally — with one possible exception — when it approved plans for the mine in January 2021.
She ordered the bureau to go back and determine whether the company had established valid mining rights on 1,300 acres (526 hectares) of neighboring land, where it plans to bury millions of tons of waste rock removed from the open pit it intends to dig deeper than the length of a football field to mine the lithium.
Du stopped short of granting the opponents’ request to block any work at the site until the validity of the claim was established under the Mining Law of 1872 on the adjacent lands about 200 miles (322 kilometers) northeast of Reno.
The White House says the mine planned by Lithium Nevada Corp., a subsidiary of Lithium Americas, is critical to ramped-up efforts to produce raw materials for electric vehicle batteries.
“There’s no evidence that Lithium Nevada will be able to establish valid mining claims to lands it plans to bury in waste rock and tailings, but the damage will be done regardless,” Brooks said in a statement Tuesday announcing the filing of the new emergency request for an injunction.
“The flawed and fast-tracked approval of this mine would inflict long-term damage to a critical sage grouse population, scare off nesting golden eagles and potentially destroy the groundwater resources for an extensive area surrounding the project site,” added Kevin Emmerich, co-founder of Basin and Range Watch, another co-plaintiff in the case.
Du said in her Feb. 6 ruling that it was one of the rare instances where it was proper to stop short of vacating a government agency’s approval of an overall project to allow the bureau to re-examine the adequacy of one element of the plan — the disposal of the waste rock.
She made clear her ruling incorporates part of a recent ruling by the 9th Circuit in a fight over the Mining Law of 1872 in a case in Arizona that could prove more onerous to mining companies that want to dispose of their waste on neighboring federal lands.
In that case, the San Francisco-based appellate court upheld an Arizona ruling that the U.S. Forest Service lacked authority to approve Rosemont Copper’s plans to dispose of waste rock on land adjacent to the mine it wanted to dig on a national forest southeast of Tucson. The service and the Bureau of Land Management long have interpreted the mining law to convey the same mineral rights to such lands.