U.S. domestic production of lithium, a key material for electric car batteries, broke another hurdle this week after a government order to protect a rare flower growing in Nevada.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said it had offered to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat, a wildflower, under the Endangered Species Act, which could hamper the progress of a mine under development by Australian company Ioneer.
Shares of Ioneer, which is seeking a secondary listing in the United States this year, fell 11% on Friday in Australia.
The company said its Rhyolite Ridge lithium project in Nevada has the largest lithium resources in the United States.
The dispute highlights the difficulty of opening new mines in the United States to meet demands for a shift to cleaner energy technologies. Another proposed lithium mine in Nevada, Thacker Pass, has also been opposed by conservation groups.
Tesla, Ford and General Motors are all increasing their battery production capacity in the United States for electric cars. Tesla said in September it also bought rights to a lithium deposit in Nevada.
Most of the world’s lithium is currently mined in Chile and Australia and processed in China for use in batteries. Last month, US President Joe Biden said China had cornered the market for raw materials for batteries such as lithium.
The entire global Tiehm buckwheat population covers just 10 acres of public land in Esmeralda County, western Nevada, where the Rhyolite lithium project is located, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday: “The service has determined, after a review of the best scientific and commercial information available, that the action requested to list Tiehm’s buckwheat, a plant species native to Nevada in the United States, is justified. . “
The Center for Biological Diversity said the lithium mine could lead to the extinction of Tiehm’s buckwheat.
“We are delighted that the Biden administration has offered endangered species protection for this delicate little flower,” said Patrick Donnelly, director of the Nevada State Center. “Tiehm’s buckwheat should not be wiped off the face of the earth by a surface mine. The intervention of the Service to save this plant from extinction is the right choice.
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Ioneer said in a statement that he supports the decision to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat and that the company has undertaken “significant work and investment” to minimize and mitigate any impact on the flower from its mining operation.
The company said Tiehm’s buckwheat was also threatened by drought, consumption of small mammals and climate change.
“We remain convinced that science strongly supports the coexistence of our vital lithium operation and Tiehm buckwheat,” said Managing Director Bernard Rowe.
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