A lithium mine collides with an endangered flower in a war between federal agencies

Just days after U.S. wildlife officials declared an endangered Nevada wildflower at a proposed lithium mining site, federal land managers are beginning to review the the latest project plan that the developer says will allow the mine and the flower to coexist.

The Home Office’s Bureau of Land Management published a notice of intent on Tuesday to conduct an environmental assessment although last week decision of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service that Tiehm’s buckwheat is on the verge of extinction.

Ioneer Ltd., the Australian mining company, said it was a “major milestone” that kicks off the final phase of allowing mining to start in 2026, a key component in batteries for batteries. electric vehicles, central to President Joe Biden’s “clean energy” agenda.

The mine is expected to produce enough lithium to produce about 400,000 electric vehicles annually for decades, “four times the current domestic supply, which is critical to meeting climate targets set by the Biden administration,” said Ioneer CEO Bernard Rowe.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in listing the flower that potential exploitation poses the greatest threat to the survival of the 6-inch-tall plant with yellow flowers in only one place. at least it is known to exist. The service also says it’s also threatened by road construction, livestock grazing, rodents that eat it, invasive plants and climate change.

Conservators who oppose the mine do not believe that Ioneer’s plans to reduce its environmental impact will overcome regulatory scrutiny. They are willing to continue litigation if necessary to protect the vegetation on the high slopes of the desert where the mine is planned to be located between Las Vegas and Reno near nearby. california boundary.

“We are preparing for a fight,” said Patrick Donnelly, director of the Great Basin at the Center for Biodiversity. The unit petitioned for the flower to be listed in 2019 and sued last year to expedite protections under the Endangered Species Act.

“The recent list of endangered species provides us with the most powerful tool in our conservation toolbox to prevent the extinction of this beautiful, rare wildflower,” said Donnelly.

Ioneer’s was the first lithium project to be issued a notice of intent to conduct a formal environmental assessment under the Biden administration.

Ioneer CEO James Calaway said it was “an important step towards securing a domestic supply of critical minerals and strategically needed materials to develop the domestic battery supply chain needed for the battery life.” electrification of vehicles in the United States.”

At the same time, the ongoing internal conflict within Department of the Interior agencies highlights some of the challenges Biden faces as he pushes for a dramatic transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. .

“It’s a real failure of Home Affairs leadership to let these agencies directly sabotage each other like this,” Donnelly said.

Similar dynamics are playing out in a federal court battle over a Nevada USFWS toad declared endangered earlier this month and a geothermal power plant that BLM approved in a neighboring wetland about 100 miles (160 km) east of Reno.

In both cases, Donnelly said, the agencies appear to “have different purposes, with the service declaring endangered species precisely because of actions that other federal agencies are approving.” .”

“If the Biden administration wants the renewable energy transition to be successful, it needs to come up with a plan that won’t drive species to extinction.” he say.

BLM’s announcement kicks off a 30-day “scoping process” with public comment through January 19 to help determine what types of alternatives should develop in the environmental impact statement. next school.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimated last week that there were only about 16,000 Tiehm buckwheat plants left in six small populations on a total of just 10 acres (4 ha) spread over about 3 square miles (7.8 km). square) — all on the Rhyolite Ridge mines. in the Silver Peak Range west of Tonopah.

Ioneer’s mitigation plan is based primarily on a “buckwheat exclusion zone,” where all mills will be surrounded by fences away from any mining activity at a distance ranging from 13 to 127 feet ( 4-38 meters), BLM said.

The company said this week “there are no direct project-related impacts on any subpopulation of Tiehm buckwheat.”

The Center for Biodiversity maintains a protective buffer zone of up to 1 mile (1.6 km) that is needed to protect vegetation from erosion, dust removal, nearby pollinators, and other impacts. other potential disadvantages.

Donnelly said: “Ioneer’s ‘Buckwheat Island’ scenario would put this sensitive little flower on the verge of extinction.

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