US advances review of Nevada lithium mine amid concerns over endangered wildflower

This photo shows Tiehm's buckwheat in 2019, which grows in the high desert in the Silver Peak Range of western Nevada about halfway between Reno and Las Vegas where a lithium mine is planned. (Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity via AP, File)

RENO, Nev. — The Biden administration has taken a significant step in its expedited environmental review of what could become the third lithium mine in the U.S., amid anticipated legal challenges from conservationists over the threat they say it poses to an endangered Nevada wildflower.

The Bureau of Land Management released more than 2,000 pages of documents in a draft environmental impact statement last week for the Rhyolite Ridge mine. Lithium is a metal key to the manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles — a centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s “green energy” agenda.


Officials for the bureau and its parent Interior Department trumpeted the news, saying the progress in the review of the lithium-boron mine project “represents another step by the Biden-Harris administration to support the responsible, domestic development of critical minerals to power the clean energy economy.”

“Federal agencies cooperating to solve issues efficiently while protecting vulnerable species and other irreplaceable resources is exactly how we will need to move forward if we’re going to produce these critical minerals in the United States,” said Steve Feldgus, deputy assistant Interior secretary for land and minerals management.

Environmentalists vowing to fight the mine say it’s the latest example of the administration running roughshod over U.S. protections for native wildlife and rare species in the name of slowing climate change by reducing reliance on fossil fuels and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, described it as “greenwashing extinction.” The nonprofit conservation group first petitioned in 2019 for federal protection of the rare flower, Tiehm’s buckwheat, which grows near the California line.

“We believe the current protection plan would violate the Endangered Species Act, so if BLM approves it as proposed, we almost certainly would challenge it,” he told The Associated Press last week.

Nevada is home to the only existing lithium mine in the U.S. and another is currently under construction near the Oregon line 220 miles (354 kilometers) north of Reno. By 2030, worldwide demand for lithium is projected to have grown six times compared to 2020.

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