A recent review of a mining law that dates back to the Civil War has given Lithium Americas the all-clear to continue with construction at its site in Nevada.
While the company initiative has received considerable flak from conservationists and indigenous leaders the Interior Department announced on Tuesday, May 16th, that it was taking steps to see how the mineral rights stipulated in the 1872 Mining Law could be made to reflect more contemporary realities.
Interior’s action was a response to a recent move by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to block the construction of a copper mine in Arizona last year. The same court is looking over a similar appeal filed by local tribes and environmentalists challenging the development of the Thacker Pass lithium mine in Nevada.
The Rosemont Decision
Referred to as the Rosemont Decision, the 9th Circuit essentially overturned the government’s longstanding position that the 1872 law essentially gives the same rights as those established via valid mining claims to adjacent properties for waste and tailing disposal.
Instead, the 9th Circuit declared that Lithium Americas needs to establish that valuable minerals in substantial amounts are present under those lands in question. The government, on the other hand, needs to validate the same.
Reno district judge Miranda Du adopted the new standard in a ruling earlier this year when her court noted that the Bureau of Land Management did not comply with the law in its approval of a Canadian firm’s plan to develop the Thacker Pass mine 200 miles northeast of Reno.
Du disregarded the objections of complainants and allowed construction to begin while the Bureau scrounges up additional evidence that the firm has the correct mineral rights to dispose of waste rock and tailings into nearby federal land. The complainants are now in the process of appealing the discussion with the 9th Circuit.
The Way Forward
For his part, Lithium Americas chief executive Jonathan Evans lauded the decision, remarking how the current administration established a way forward.
Rethinking the stipulations of the 1872 Mining Law enables the lithium mining sector to resolve standing matters regarding the approval of the Thacker Pass initiative along with other mining site development projects moving forward.
But not everyone is pleased about this. Nevada senator Catherine Cortez Masto declared that the decision was misguided as it defies over 100 years of mining practice in the Western states. In fact, Masto recently introduced a bipartisan bill that hopes to insulate the Thacker Pass facility by reverting to the historic interpretation of the law.