Lithium miner cited for violating endangered flower habitat

Jan 18, 2023, 11:23 PM | Updated: Jan 19, 2023, 1:37 pm
FILE - In this photo provided by the Center for Biological Diversity, is a laydown area for drillin...

FILE - In this photo provided by the Center for Biological Diversity, is a laydown area for drilling operations within Tiehm's buckwheat critical habitat in Esmeralda County, Nev., Dec. 26, 2022. Five days after the Energy Department announced a $700 million conditional loan to an Australian mining company pursuing a contentious lithium project in Nevada, U.S. land managers cited it for trespassing within habitat of an endangered flower. (Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity via AP, File)

(Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity via AP, File)

              FILE - This photo provided by the Center for Biological Diversity taken in June 2019, in the Silver Peak Range of western Nevada about halfway between Reno and Las Vegas shows Tiehm's buckwheat growing in the high desert where a lithium mine is planned. Five days after the Energy Department announced a $700 million conditional loan to an Australian mining company pursuing a contentious lithium project in Nevada, U.S. land managers cited it for trespassing within habitat of an endangered flower. (Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity via AP, File)
            
              FILE - In this photo provided by the Center for Biological Diversity, Tiehm's buckwheat grows in the high desert in the Silver Peak Range of western Nevada about halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, in June 2019, where a lithium mine is planned. Five days after the Energy Department announced a $700 million conditional loan to an Australian mining company pursuing a contentious lithium project in Nevada, U.S. land managers cited it for trespassing within habitat of an endangered flower. (Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity via AP, File)
            
              FILE - In this photo provided by the Center for Biological Diversity, is a laydown area for drilling operations within Tiehm's buckwheat critical habitat in Esmeralda County, Nev., Dec. 26, 2022. Five days after the Energy Department announced a $700 million conditional loan to an Australian mining company pursuing a contentious lithium project in Nevada, U.S. land managers cited it for trespassing within habitat of an endangered flower. (Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity via AP, File)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Five days after the U.S. Energy Department announced a $700 million conditional loan to an Australian mining company pursuing a lithium project in Nevada, federal land managers cited it for trespassing within the habitat of an endangered flower.

The Bureau of Land Management said in Wednesday’s trespass notice to Ioneer Rhyolite Ridge LLC it has confirmed land was disturbed within the designated critical habitat for Tiehm’s buckwheat, a 6-inch-tall (15-centimeter-tall) desert wildflower with yellow blooms.

The agency said the disturbance was prohibited under a permit it issued Ioneer in November to drill for underground samples at the proposed mine site still facing environmental hurdles near the California border halfway between Reno and Las Vegas.

The Bureau of Land Management said the agency’s drilling permit required any disturbance of the land occur outside areas identified as critical habitat for the plant the Fish and Wildlife Service listed as endangered last month. The mine is intended to bolster the domestic production of a critical element in the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries.

Ioneer said no plants were disturbed but acknowledged “what occurred was a violation of BLM regulatory requirements.”

“We take full responsibility for the breach and sincerely regret the inadvertent noncompliance with the permit,” Ioneer Managing Director Bernard Rowe said in a statement.

“Since day one, Ioneer has instructed our staff and contractors about the need to observe all permit conditions. We are investigating exactly how this failure occurred and we will take action to assure total compliance in the future,” he said Wednesday.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the violation could jeopardize or otherwise affect the conditional loan. The Department of Energy’s Loan Programs Office announced the loan last Friday for Ioneer to pursue the project. The Energy Department said the loan was contingent on, among other things, the completion of an environmental impact statement.

Department of Energy spokesperson Ramzey Smith said Thursday in an email response to a request for comment from The Associated Press that Ioneer “has made DOE aware of its BLM permitting violation related to the Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project, as well as its intent to fully cooperate with BLM in responding to this incident.”

But Smith said “further questions regarding this matter should be directed to” the Bureau of Land Management or Ioneer.

The bureau said it inspected the site Jan. 13, the day after it received a complaint from conservationists who oppose the mine and petitioned for the flower’s protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“The BLM did the right thing here to hold Ioneer accountable for the harms it’s caused to the buckwheat’s critical habitat,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“It certainly calls into question whether Ioneer can adhere to the terms of any buckwheat protections they agree to for the mine,” he told AP.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in listing the plant and designating 910 acres (368 hectares) as critical habitat it was on the brink of extinction and mining posed the single biggest threat to its survival.

Ioneer has hoped to begin mining there by 2026.

Donnelly discovered the drilling staging area with a truck, water tanks, materials and explosive storage at Rhyolite Ridge on Dec. 26. That was the same day he documented cattle he said were trespassing in flower habitat.

The group filed a 60-day notice Jan. 9 of intent to sue the Bureau of Land Management to force the removal of the livestock.

The bureau has declined comment on the cattle. It said Wednesday Ioneer had 14 days to respond and/or present evidence disputing the drilling-related violation.

Perry Wickham, the bureau’s field manager, said Ioneer is liable for any costs the government incurred as a consequence of trespassing, fair rental market value of the trespassed lands and rehabilitation.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must be consulted before any reclamation begins, and Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service must be onsite during all reclamation actions, Wickham said.

Failure to “resolve the trespass liability may result in further trespass penalties,” he wrote in the formal notice.

The Energy Department said the site could produce enough lithium to support the production of about 370,000 electric vehicles annually for decades. The Biden administration has made a plan for a half-million charging stations for electric vehicles a signature piece of its clean energy agenda to help accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to renewables and reduce greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.

Jigar Shah, director of the Department of Energy’s loan office, said Friday Ioneer’s proposed mine is “a major step towards bolstering domestic lithium production for clean energy technologies.”

But “we clearly are not committing any capital to the project yet,” Shah told AP. “They still have to meet the conditions.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Zoubin Ghahramani, vice president of research at Google, speaks at the Google AI@ event on W...
Associated Press

Google has the next move as Microsoft embraces OpenAI buzz

Before the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT was unleashed into the world, the novelist Robin Sloan was testing a similar AI writing assistant built by researchers at Google.
14 hours ago
budgets...
Associated Press

Group’s lawsuit seeks to void Washington transportation law

A conservative legal advocacy organization is suing to halt the nearly $17 billion transportation funding bill passed by the Washington Legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee last year.
14 hours ago
Associated Press

Grandmother indicted after boy, 9, fatally shoots teen girl

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore grandmother faces criminal charges for failing to secure the gun that her 9-year-old grandson was carrying when he fatally shot a teenage girl last summer, officials announced Thursday, saying the indictment should serve as a warning about the importance of safe firearm storage. Nykayla Strawder, 15, was hanging out on […]
2 days ago
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during a news conference in Washington, Thurs...
Associated Press

US reunites nearly 700 kids taken from parents under Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Biden administration task force designed to reunite children separated from their families during President Trump’s presidency has reconnected nearly 700 children with their families, officials said Thursday. President Joe Biden issued an executive order on his first day in office to reunite families that were split up under the Trump administration’s […]
2 days ago
FILE - The Starbucks logo is seen on a storefront, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in Boston Starbucks repor...
Associated Press

Starbucks misses sales, revenue estimates as China falters

Starbucks reported lower-than-expected sales in its fiscal first quarter, hurt by COVID restrictions in China and lower consumer demand in other markets. Global same-store sales — or sales at stores open at least a year — were up 5% in the October-December period, but that was partly due to higher prices. Store transactions were down […]
2 days ago
The Amazon DTW1 fulfillment center is shown in Romulus, Mich., April 1, 2020. Amazon reports financ...
Associated Press

Amazon beats Q4 revenue estimates, but profits slump

NEW York (AP) — Amazon on Thursday reported worse-than-expected profits, but its revenue beat expectations boosted by sales in North America businesses and the cloud-computing unit AWS. Amazon said it made $300 million in profits, or 3 cents per share, falling below the $2.03 billion analysts surveyed by FactSet had been expecting. The company said […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Lithium miner cited for violating endangered flower habitat