Environmentalists are taking a new approach in their legal battle with the Biden administration over a Nevada lithium mine. They are accusing U.S. wildlife officials of delaying action on a year-old petition to grant endangered species status to a tiny snail, the Kings River pyrg, that lives near the proposed mine. The Western Watersheds Project, in its formal notice of intent to sue, claims that the government’s failure to list the snail as threatened or endangered could push it to the brink of extinction. They argue that the only known habitat of the snail is near the proposed Thacker Pass Mine. The Western Watersheds Project says that groundwater pumping associated with the mine will reduce or eliminate flows to the springs that support the snails.
President Joe Biden has made increased domestic production of lithium a key part of his plan for a greener future, as global demand for lithium for electric vehicle batteries is projected to increase six-fold by 2030.
Past lawsuits have targeted the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management for expediting approval of the mine. This new approach targets the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for ensuring protection of fish and wildlife habitat around the mine site.
The snail’s imperiled status has been exacerbated by livestock grazing, round-building, and the anticipated impacts of climate change. The Western Watersheds Project argues that it’s essential for the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as endangered to protect it from extinction.
Environmental groups and tribal lawyers previously claimed a partial victory in their legal challenges against the mine, but construction proceeded. Now, they are targeting the protection of the snail to halt or further delay the project. Lithium Americas, the company behind the mine, has stated that it has taken steps to avoid impacts on the springs.
Lithium is a crucial component in electric vehicle batteries and clean energy technologies, and the debate over domestic production versus environmental concerns is likely to continue in the context of the clean energy transition.