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Lawmakers join ‘critical’ fight against lithium drilling near Ash Meadows

Signaling a win for environmentalists and a mobilized Nye County town, Nevada’s U.S. senators and three of its congressional representatives threw their support behind a proposal to prevent lithium mining around Ash Meadows National Refuge.

In a letter dated Tuesday, Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Reps. Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee, D-Nev., urged the U.S. Department of Interior to issue a “mineral withdrawal” around the refuge.

A mineral withdrawal would prevent new mining companies from staking their claim to minerals like lithium on public land, which companies can do freely under the General Mining Act of 1872. Lithium, designated as a critical mineral needed for the energy transition away from fossil fuels, is used in electric vehicle batteries.

“I think this is a needed breath of relief for our community leaders,” said Mason Voehl, executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy, a nonprofit that’s fueled local opposition to mining near Ash Meadows. “Especially so they don’t feel like they’re just kind of yelling into the void about this issue.”

The withdrawal wouldn’t affect those currently staked by Rover Critical Minerals, whose two exploratory lithium projects drew the ire of Nye County residents reliant on wells that pump groundwater. Rover’s CEO didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Voehl and his coalition, through a Nature Conservancy hydrological study, have made the case that any mining project in the vicinity of Ash Meadows would imperil its endangered species and local access to water. Rover has maintained that its independent hydrologist doesn’t see any potential impact.

“Recent proposals for exploratory mineral drilling and extraction near the refuge boundary pose an immediate threat to the integrity of this fragile ecosystem,” the lawmakers wrote. “Maintaining the integrity of this watershed is not only important for conserving the unique plants and animals that live in this special place, but it also helps protect the water source for the surrounding communities.”

Haaland to decide fate of the fight

The letter comes after a coalition made up of Nye County town officials, Death Valley’s Timbisha Shoshone tribe, and the Amargosa Conservancy traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to plead their case to Interior officials.

The group gave Cortez Masto a tour of the refuge in April, and she has since been outspoken on the issue in congressional hearings with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Bureau of Land Management Director Tracy Stone-Manning.

Haaland now will decide whether a mineral withdrawal is warranted. A set timeline is unclear.

“We’re going to have to be vigilant,” Voehl said. “What we don’t want to see is this languish over the next few months and get shelved.”

Contact Alan Halaly at ahalaly@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlanHalaly on X.

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