Last September, in the arid hills of northern Nevada in the US, a cluster of flowers found nowhere else on earth died mysteriously overnight.
Conservationists were quick to suspect ioneer Ltd, an Australian firm that wants to mine the lithium that lies beneath the flowers for use in electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
One conservation group alleged in a lawsuit that the flowers, known as Tiehm’s buckwheat, were “dug up and destroyed”. The rare plant posed a problem for ioneer because US officials may soon add it to the Endangered Species List, which could scuttle the mining project.
The company denies harming the flowers. Their cause of death remains hotly debated – as does the fate of the lithium mine.
The clash of environmental priorities underpinning the battle over Tiehm’s buckwheat – conservation vs green energy – is a microcosm of a much larger political quandary for the new administration of President Joe Biden, who has made big promises to environmentalists as well as labour groups and others who stand to benefit by boosting mining.
To please conservationists, Biden has vowed to set aside at least 30 percent of US federal land and coastal areas for conservation, triple current levels.
But that aim could conflict with his promises to hasten the electrification of vehicles and to reduce the country’s dependence on China for rare earths, lithium and other minerals needed for EV batteries. The administration has called the reliance on China a national security threat.
The administration will be forced into hard choices that anger one constituency or another.
“You can’t have green energy without mining,” Mark Senti, chief executive of Florida-based rare earth magnet company Advanced Magnet Lab Inc. “That’s just the reality.”
Rare earth magnets are used to make a range of consumer electronics as well as precision-guided missiles and other weapons.
Two sources familiar with White House deliberations on domestic mining told Reuters that Biden plans to allow mines that produce EV metals to be developed under existing environmental standards, rather than face a tightened process that would apply to mining for other materials, such as coal. Biden is open to allowing more mines on federal land, the sources said, but will not give the industry carte blanche to dig everywhere.
That will likely mean approval of mines for rare earths and lithium – though certain copper projects such as a proposed Arizona copper mine from Rio Tinto Plc opposed by Native Americans are likely to face extra scrutiny – the sources said.
The White House declined to comment for this article.
Demand for metals used in EV batteries is expected to rise sharply as automakers including Tesla Inc, BMW and General Motors plan major expansions of EV production. California, the biggest US vehicle market, aims to entirely…
Go to the news source: Race for EV batteries pits conservationists against green energy | Automotive In…