Members of the Reno Sparks Indian Colony holding an event near the planned Thacker Pass lithium mining site. (Photo: Little Buck Harjo/Reno-Sparks Indian Colony)
Construction of a mine over the largest known source of lithium in the United States started Thursday, after a federal court rejected an emergency request to halt work on the mine.
The Thacker Pass mine — which has been wrapped up in a legal battle for two years — made its way to 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where the San Francisco-based court rejected a conservation group’s request to block construction while an appeal could be decided.
Last month, Chief Judge Miranda M. Du cleared most legal challenges to the mine, minus a judge ordered waste rock review, which cleared the way for construction of the lithium mine near the Oregon-Nevada border.
Following the appeals court decision, the Bureau of Land Management gave the developer, Canada-based Lithium Americas, permission to proceed on construction.
“Starting construction is a momentous milestone for Thacker Pass and one we have been working towards for over a decade,” said Jonathan Evans, president and CEO of Lithium Americas. “We are excited about the prospect of generating economic growth in Northern Nevada and playing a major role in the domestic lithium supply chain for electric vehicles.”
Site preparation, geotechnical drilling, water pipeline development and associated infrastructure have already started, according to Lithium Americas.
Lithium reserves at Thacker Pass have the potential to support the production of up to 1 million electric vehicles per year for 40 years, according to the developer. The company said they expect production to begin by the end of 2026.
The Ninth Circuit decision was a blow to conservation groups and Native Americans in Nevada who fought the construction of a lithium mine on a site considered sacred to several Nevada tribes.
Paiute and Shoshone people, including three tribes who filed a separate lawsuit last month, refer to Thacker Pass as “Peehee mu’huh” which translates to “rotten moon” in honor of their ancestors massacred on two separate occasions in an area of the pass shaped like a moon, including by the U.S. Cavalry in 1865.
The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony previously likened mineral extraction on ancestral land they hold sacred to “disturbing Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery.”
Conservation groups argue the mine will lead to the ecological destruction of pristine sage grouse habitat and cultural sites at Thacker Pass.
“By the time our general appeal to the Ninth Circuit is heard, irreversible damage to the environmentally and culturally sensitive area known as Thacker Pass will have occurred unnecessarily,” damage that might otherwise never happen “if only a stay on the mine had been ordered,” said John Hadder, Director of Great Basin Resource Watch, in a statement. “I fear that we are moving to a period of unaccountable mining with our future generations to pay the price, and wonder why we didn’t take the time now to carefully and legally scrutinize mining proposals like Thacker Pass.”
On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also set an expedited schedule to hear the merits of the appeal in June.
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