Green Vs Green: Endangered Flower May Wipe Out Nevada Lithium Mine

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by Tyler Durden
Saturday, Dec 17, 2022 - 02:20 AM

It isn't easy being green. America's would-be second lithium mine hit a major speed bump on Wednesday, as federal wildlife officials declared that a flower known to exist only on that property is endangered. 

An essential chemical element used in manufacturing batteries, lithium plays a starring role in the green energy movement's myopic quest to replace fossil fuels. In Nevada, however, we get to observe the spectacle of green energy being thwarted by a different form of environmentalism.  

The official conferment of endangered species status on "Tiehm's buckwheat" raises the hurdle for Ioneer, the Australian mining company that has for years been planning to build an open-pit lithium mine on federal land roughly midway between Las Vegas and Reno.  

Out of the entire Earth, Tiehm's buckwheat grows only on 10 acres of public land in Nevada (Patrick Donnelly, Center for Biological Diversity)

Wednesday's move by the Fish and Wildlife Service not only protects the 10 acres on which the plants are found in a 3-square-mile area, but also another 900 surrounding acres deemed as "critical habitat."  

The declaration was prompted by litigation initiated by the Center for Biological Diversity. Environmentalists aren't done yet: They say Ioneer's plan for protecting the plant won't survive federal scrutiny.

“I’m thrilled that Tiehm’s buckwheat now has the protections it so desperately needs for survival,” says Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Lithium is an important part of our renewable energy transition, but it can’t come at the cost of extinction.”

Before you blame mankind for the fact that Tiehm's buckwheat is on the brink of joining the estimated 99% of the Earth's all-time species that have already gone extinct, consider that, according to Reuters, "an apparent, unprecedented rodent attack wiped out about 60% of [the Tiehm's buckwheat] estimated population in 2020."    

Today, there's only one operating lithium mine in the United States -- the Albemarle Silver Peak Mine, which is found in the same region -- near the California border -- as the mine affected by Wednesday's declaration. 

The Albermarle Silver Peak Mine in Silver Peak, Nevada (Carlos Barría/Reuters via The Guardian)

Plants and animals aren't the only impediment to tapping more of America's lithium reserves. A whopping 79% of the country's known lithium is found within 35 miles of tribal lands. In many places, that's already prompting protests by native American groups opposing mining on lands they consider sacred. 

Of course, it's possible that there's an as-yet undiscovered patch of Tiehm's buckwheat somewhere else in Nevada. There are also more 17,000 prospecting claims for lithium in the state.

However, in an unintended consequence of government policies regarding endangered species, prospectors observing Ioneer's woes are now incentivized to discretely eradicate any Tiehm's buckwheat they happen to find near their claim.