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7 Feb 2023

Lithium Nevada lawsuit (re approval of lithium mine for electric vehicle batteries, USA)

Status: CLOSED

Date lawsuit was filed
7 Feb 2023
Community, Indigenous peoples
Location of Filing: United States of America
Location of Incident: United States of America
Type of Litigation: Domestic



Snapshot Box

In early 2021 environmentalists, Native American tribes and a rancher filed a lawsuit to block Lithium Nevada’s construction of an open pit lithium mine in the Nevada desert to produce raw materials for electric vehicle batteries. They allege that the construction of the mine would negatively impact the local environment and cultural values of Native American tribes. In March 2023, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied an emergency injunction filed in 2023, and the construction of the mine is now underway. 

Factual Background 

The desert area near the Nevada-Oregon border is home to the third largest known lithium deposit in the world. Lithium Nevada, a subsidiary of Lithium Americas, seeks to construct a 5,000-acre open-pit lithium mine to produce raw materials for electric vehicle batteries. Lithium Nevada claims that the mine could produce lithium for over 1.5 million electric vehicles per year for 40 years. Production from the mine is expected to begin by late 2026.  The company has already invested over $150 million in the project.

Opponents of the mine (environmentalists, Native American tribes and a rancher) assert that it would harm the local environment and wildlife. Native American tribes claim the mine would harm sacred cultural values given its proximity to a site where dozens of Native people were killed in 1865. Opponents also argue Lithium Nevada is greenwashing the mining project by focusing on the mine’s contribution to renewable energy while disregarding the local environmental impacts. The company and federal government meanwhile argue that the mine is essential to quickly moving away from fossil fuels and investing in green energy, and that the emergency filings undermine efforts to fight climate change.

Legal Argument

Opponents of the mine argue that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management illegally approved the mine’s construction plan without sufficient environmental review to expedite lithium extraction for renewable energy sources, namely electric car batteries. They also argue the project violates environmental laws.

Legal Proceedings 

In early 2021, a rancher filed a lawsuit at the US District Court in  Nevada seeking to block Lithium Nevada’s construction of an open pit lithium mine in the Nevada desert. This suit, as well as others brought by environmentalists and Native American tribes, were consolidated into one at the US District Court.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management’s approved the company’s plan for the mine in January 2021 during the final days of the Trump Administration. In early February 2023, US District Judge Mirando Du ruled that the Department’s approval of Lithium Nevada’s plan for the mine conformed with federal law. The opponents argued the project should not be allowed per an 1872 law and 2022 ruling out of the 9th Circuit allowing mining of valuable metals to occur on federal land, but not other mining-associated practices like the disposal of rocks.  Judge Du balanced the immediate environmental harms with the longer-term climate impacts, finding the latter took precedence. However, the Judge also asked the Bureau of Land Management whether Lithium Nevada has the right to dispose of mine waste on 1,300 acres of nearby land.

In February 2023, three Native American tribes filed an emergency motion at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to prevent the mining project from moving forward. The Native American tribes argued the Bureau of Land Management withheld critical information from the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office and misrepresented the extent to which it consulted local tribes about the project. Additionally, the tribes asserted the Bureau violated the Federal Land Policy Management Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. The Court denied this request, and the mine’s construction began in early March 2023. The Court did not explain why it rejected the emergency injunction.

Lithium mine wins appeal; construction underway, 5 March 2023, Nevada Appeal

Three tribes file new lawsuit challenging Thacker Pass lithium mine, 21 February 2023, Nevada Current

Thacker Pass lithium mine clears most legal challenges, minus a judge ordered waste rock review, 7 February 2023, Nevada Current