Campaigners Voice Concerns Over Lithium Mine Threatening Rare Nevada Plant

by Jennifer

NEVADA — In a remote corner of Nevada, delicate pink buds of Tiehm’s buckwheat sway in the desert breeze. This rare wildflower, found only in this specific region, faces an existential threat from an impending lithium mine project.


Beneath these plants lies a substantial reserve of lithium, a critical component for the rechargeable batteries used in electric vehicles, which are essential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, environmentalists fear that mining this area could lead to the extinction of Tiehm’s buckwheat.

“This mine is going to cause extinction,” warns Patrick Donnelly, an environmentalist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “They claim they’re not harming the plant, but can you imagine if someone built an open-pit mine 200 feet from your house? Wouldn’t that affect your life profoundly?”

Tiehm’s buckwheat is a highly endangered species, with only about 20,000 known specimens spread across an area equivalent to five football fields. In 2022, U.S. federal authorities classified the plant as endangered, with mining cited as a significant threat to its survival.

This situation highlights a major dilemma in the global fight against climate change: balancing environmental preservation with the need for critical minerals.

Bernard Rowe, CEO of Australian mining company Ioneer, which holds the mineral rights to the area, argues that the lithium from Rhyolite Ridge could power around 370,000 electric vehicles annually for the next 26 years. This output aligns with President Joe Biden’s goal to reduce the number of gas-powered vehicles and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Zero-emission vehicles make up about 7.5% of new car sales in the U.S. today, more than double the percentage from a few years ago,” Rowe said. “California leads with over 20%, and while growth has slowed, this remains the fastest-growing segment in the market.”

The global demand for lithium is projected to increase five to seven times by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. However, most of the world’s lithium supply is controlled by China, Australia, and Chile, leaving the U.S. with minimal domestic production.

“The United States has very little domestic production,” Rowe stated. “Developing a domestic supply chain is crucial for the energy transition, and Rhyolite Ridge will be an integral part of that.”

Ioneer’s plan, set to commence lithium production by late 2027, will impact about one-fifth of Tiehm’s buckwheat habitat. The company, which has invested $2.5 million in research, asserts that the mining operations will not jeopardize the plant’s survival, noting successful greenhouse growth and potential for replanting.

“We’re confident that the mine and Tiehm’s buckwheat can coexist,” Rowe asserted.

Despite Ioneer’s mitigation strategies, including dust control measures, Donnelly remains skeptical, accusing the company of “greenwashing extinction.”

“They’re claiming to save this plant while actually pushing it towards doom,” he argued. Donnelly suggests relocating the mine, but Rowe insists this is not feasible given the substantial investment and specific suitability of the site.

The U.S. Department of Energy has provisionally approved a $700 million loan for the project, contingent on permitting from the Bureau of Land Management. Donnelly emphasizes that the issue extends beyond this single plant, representing broader concerns about biodiversity loss.

“If we solve the climate crisis but drive everything else to extinction, we’ll still lose our world,” he cautioned.


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