Lithium Americas: Court of Appeals Brushes Aside Environmentalists On Thacker Pass

On July 17, the three-member U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voted unanimously to uphold a lower court’s ruling that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had fully reviewed the potential environmental impact of Lithium Americas Corp.’s (TSX: LAC) giant Thacker Pass lithium mining project in northern Nevada and that construction can proceed. The Court of Appeals ruling probably eliminates any chance that appeals by tribes or environmentalists could derail the Thacker Pass construction process.

In the 11-page ruling, the three-judge panel generally chose to defer to the expertise of the BLM in the government agency’s decision to granting Thacker Pass a mining license. The Ninth Circuit’s decision permits Lithium Americas to continue to implement its plan to bury waste rock from mine construction on 1,300 acres of public land. 

READ: Lithium Americas: Ninth Circuit Court Hears Oral Arguments on Appeal of Approval of Thacker Pass Mining License

Interestingly, the July 17th Ninth Circuit Court decision made no mention of its own 2022 decision that specified that U.S. mining law requires that the entirety of a project’s land must have mineralization for some of it to be used as a waste dump, and the availability of a waste dump is necessary for the project to be awarded a mining license. In Thacker Pass’ case, the BLM found that a sliver (80 acres) of the 13,000-acre Thacker Pass site did not contain lithium.

The absence of lithium on these 80 acres was a key topic discussed by opposing environmental groups when the Ninth Circuit Court held oral arguments on the case on June 26, but the court apparently decided not to factor in those arguments when making its ruling.

By way of background, Chief Judge Miranda Du of the U.S. District Court of the District of Nevada permitted construction to begin at Thacker Pass in February 2023. Judge Du ruled affirmatively despite concluding that the BLM’s approval of Thacker Pass in early 2021 had violated federal law because the government agency had not conclusively determined Lithium Americas’ mining rights to this land because of the waste rock issue.

The 2022 case which the Ninth Circuit Court (perhaps curiously) did not use as a precedent for its July 17 Thacker Pass decision involved Hudbay Minerals’ proposed open pit Rosemont copper project in Arizona. In that case, the Ninth Circuit Court decided that the U.S. Forest Service incorrectly assumed that Hudbay had valid mining claims to occupy about 2,800 acres of public land. Most of those acres would be used for waste rock facilities, and Hudbay did not establish that copper was present where the waste rock would be disposed. The Court of Appeals ruled that Hudbay could only utilize all 2,800 acres for the mine if it had established valuable minerals were present throughout the entire project area, including that which would underly the waste rock facilities.

Lithium Americas Corp. last traded at $25.91 on the TSX Exchange.

Information for this briefing was found via Sedar and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to this organization. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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