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Tribes continue fight against Thacker Pass in new federal lawsuit


Three Native American tribes filed this week a new lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management over Lithium Americas planned Thacker Pass lithium mine.

The lawsuit comes after federal Judge Miranda Du mostly ruled against the plaintiffs seeking to stop the project near the Nevada-Oregon border. It was filed Thursday by the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Burns Paiute Tribe and Summit Lake Paiute Tribe in Federal District Court.

The tribes are alleging BLM withheld information from the state “and lied about the extent of tribal consultation in order to secure legally required concurrence about historic properties” at Thacker Pass. They are also alleging BLM lied and misled the tribes about other aspects of the mining project.

“The new lawsuit is also strengthened by the addition of the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, one of the Tribes that the BLM claims to have consulted with prior to issuing the [record of decision],” they said in a press statement. “Summit Lake and both other tribes the BLM claims to have consulted (the Winnemucca Indian Colony and Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe) have disputed BLM’s assertion that any consultation took place.” 

The Winnemucca Indian Colony, they said, was unable to intervene in the case for not filing soon enough. 

“When the decision was made public on the previous lawsuit last week, we said we would continue to advocate for our sacred site PeeHee Mu’Huh,” said Arlan Melendez, chair of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. “It is also the very same place where our people were massacred (never laid to rest properly) by the U.S. Calvary. It’s a place where all Paiute and Shoshone people continue to pray, gather medicines and food, honor our non-human relatives, honor our water, honor our way of life, honor our ancestors.

“The Thacker Pass permitting process was not done correctly. BLM contends they have discretion to decide who to notify or consult with,” he added. “They only contacted 3 out of the 22 tribes who had significant ties to Thacker Pass.”

Lithium Americas, the company seeking to mine lithium for electric batteries, notes on its website the project “has been designed to avoid environmentally sensitive and rugged terrain. Thacker Pass presents an opportunity to develop an American lithium supply chain that will work towards President Biden’s goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The global lithium battery market is expected to grow by a factor of 5 to 10 in the next decade1, and Thacker Pass is critical for the US to secure a domestic lithium supply.”

The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection granted permits for the project.

“Approval for these permits comes after an extensive application review and revision process, as well as months of public engagement with the Orovada community and the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribes,” NDEP’s website notes. “All three permits, which are required for Lithium Nevada to start construction and operate the mine, come after NDEP determined the project can operate in a way that protects public health and the environment.”

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.