Updated: Aug 26
Native American tribes are about to feel big side effects from the boom of electric vehicles (EVs). EVs largely use and require lithium-ion batteries. Laptop and cell phone batteries do too. The demand for lithium is on fire at the moment. And as a result, lithium mining is booming as well, and those mines stand to impact Native American tribal lands and water. Such impacts are not temporary; they are possibly forever given the toxic forever waste that will be left in the land and groundwater.
The largest lithium deposits in the USA is in Nevada. A lithium mine at Thacker Pass was recently approved for development and operations by the Bureau of Land Management. The mine is already looking to expand close to the Fort McDermitt Indian Reservation. Another lithium mining company applied for 112,000 acre-feet annually of water rights in southern Railroad Valley in Nevada, which would deplete other waters of the basin and eliminate water for other users. It is likely to even pull groundwater away from northern Railroad Valley at the Duckwater Shoshone Reservation.
Photo source: Lithium Americas website, lithiumamericas.com. This is what a lithium mine processing facility looks like.
After China launched an unprecedented effort to get EVs and EV infrastructure in the big cities and across the country, the USA took a baby step with intentions to follow. President Biden just signed an executive order to make it the policy of the USA to make 50% of new vehicles sold by 2030 as zero emission vehicles -- a very clear competitive response to China's announcement to have 20% of all new vehicles be EVs by 2025. Both are excellent and welcomed goals. But the USA is all about Dems vs. Reps.... fighting within to move much on anything.
Problem is, lithium mine proposals in the US are shaping up to be a series of disasters both for Native American Tribes and for America in general. Lithium mined at Thacker Pass is just one mine project that is a blatant win-lose. The Canadian-based Lithium Americas company will take the value of America's lithium commodity, and leave local communities and tribes to face the long-term after-effects. Toxic-forever waste will be left in the ground and water. That waste will always be there. Thousands of metric tons of forever waste.
The cost of cleanup is astronomical, far exceeding any profits gained by local and national economies. The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribes are essentially right next to the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine. They have cultural and religious sites at Thacker Pass that will contribute to the erasure of the Tribes' history and culture. The mine project is already looking to expand closer to the Tribes' reservation lands, setting up an ugly situation to further contaminate the Tribes' groundwater, ceremonial grounds, and hunting and gathering areas.
I find it interesting that the USA is so willing to give away lithium without financial benefit, even going terribly far into debt by harboring toxic forever waste with a cleanup cost that would be never-ending. In the end, Lithium Americas will profit while local Tribes lose. They might get a small, temporary financial benefit; but rest assured they suffer the long term impacts just as they have done as the federal government continues to put the burden of impacts on tribal people. It's a prime example of the federal government's anti-environmental justice action network against indigenous peoples.