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A county torn over lithium mining could set the tone as America looks for renewable energy sources

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Posted at 9:04 AM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 15:32:52-04

Humboldt County, Nevada is home to one of the largest sources of lithium in the world.

There is an estimated 9 square miles worth of lithium in Thacker Pass, and there are plans to mine it.

An ancient underground volcano left behind the mineral that is a major piece of renewable energy future.

"One percent of the lithium in the world gets produced by the United States, so this mine right here will produce about 25% of America's use of lithium projected out over the next 30 years," said Dave Mendiola, who is the county manager in Humboldt County.

A little over a year ago, the area was given the federal green light to build the open-pit mine. Currently, there is only one lithium mine in America.

Mendiola said the project will bring hundreds of jobs to the area. The country is already planning development projects to provide new homes to the people coming in.

"There'll be a lot of job opportunities, both at the mine itself and then in a lot of those ancillary businesses," he said.

However, current lawsuits and appeals by a diverse group of people, including Indigenous tribes, ranchers and environmental groups, are holding up progress for the mine’s development. According to John Hader, executive director of Great Basin Resource Watch, that’s a good thing.

"It's a big footprint when you put it in one of these mines, and that needs to be considered, and it's, I feel like it's not being considered enough," he said.

Hader’s group is concerned about many things— potential toxins from waste rock, the impact on Native lands, which it will be built on and the water footprint.

"People in the community are very concerned about the potential for expansion of the mine further down the road and requiring more water, before you know it, they can't grow their crops there, they can't do agriculture, you can’t do ranching anymore. That's what the long-term concern is," he said.

The next decision on the mine is expected this fall.

As the country looks for new ways to power the nation, similar issues will likely keep popping up.

"If you look the other way, then you're going to do environmental damage that also affects our climate and more so than necessary," said Hader.

"There are families who see their kids grow up and their kids go off to school or somewhere else looking for some great opportunity, but this is just another opportunity for our children to stay here in the community," said Mendiola.