RENO, Nev. — A U.S. judge on Monday handed down a mixed ruling in the highly fraught Thacker Pass lithium mine case. 

The ruling upheld the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) decision to approve the Thacker Pass lithium mine in northern Nevada but ordered the BLM to review the mining claims Lithium Americas, the company developing the mine, has in according with a 19th-century law that governs mining on public lands.

BLM, which issued a permit for the mine in 2020, had faced legal challenges from conservation organizations, a local rancher, and several tribes to stop the project.

U.S. District Court Judge Miranda M. Du wrote in her order on Monday that the court  “affirms BLM's decision, rejecting arguments that the Project will cause unnecessary and undue degradation to the local sage grouse population and habitat, groundwater aquifers, and air quality in violation of Federal Land Policy…” 

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In oral arguments on Jan. 5, 2023, attorneys for the plaintiffs said that BLM failed to fully analyze the mine’s impacts on the environment and did not fully consult with tribes. The court disagreed and cited that BLM reasonably consulted with the Burns Paiute Tribe and Reno-Sparks Indian Tribe. 

“We have expected this decision for some time,” Arlan Melendez, Chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, said in a statement on Feb. 7.  “This does not mean consultation was done correctly and it does not mean this fight is over. We will be continuing to advocate for this sacred site.”

Thacker Pass is called Peehee Mu’huh, or Rotten Moon, in Paiute because, in 1865, federal cavalry killed men, women and children and then left their bodies to rot.

Du wrote in her order on Monday, “None of the tribes who spoke to BLM’s consultant who prepared the Ethnographic Assessment identified the Thacker Pass area as either sacred or a massacre site.”

According to the court order, federal land managers sent letters to consult with the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe, the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe and the Winnemucca Indian Colony in December 2019, but BLM did not receive responses before the approval decision was released in 2020. 

People of Red Mountain is an Indigenous organization of traditional knowledge keepers and members of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe. They have been opposing the Thacker Mine project since 2021 and say that the lawsuit is a matter of protecting their culture and sites considered sacred to them.

“Federal Justice Miranda Du and her decision with the Thacker Pass lithium mine has just slithered into the malicious patterns of American law and a corporate-priority government,” People of Red Mountain said in a statement to Native News Online. “People of color are not treated with respect and equality in United Corporations of America, and capitalism is the number one threat to our climate future.

“Our hearts are heavy in hearing the decision that Judge Du did not revoke the permits for the Thacker Pass lithium mine. Indigenous Peoples’ sacred sites should not be at the expense of the climate crisis the U.S. faces.” 

Last week, Native News Online reported that automaker General Motors is investing $650 million in Lithium Americas if it clears the permit process.

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.