Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said the Biden administration wants to look at the lithium needed for mining electric cars “in a responsible way” that respects the environment and Native American tribes.
Nevada is home to the only large-scale lithium mine currently operating in the US. Two proposed lithium mines in Nevada are facing legal challenges and backlash from conservationists.
This week, plans for one of the mines were endangered after the US government announced it proposes to protect an extremely rare wildflower that grows only at the mine site in Nevada under the Endangered Species Act.
A third proposed mine near the Nevada-Oregon border has attracted legal challenges and opposition from ranchers, Native Americans and environmentalists.
The challenges test the ability of the Biden administration to deliver on its promises to protect public lands while pursuing aggressive clean energy goals like getting more electric cars on the road.
Granholm said on Thursday that the administration wanted to find a way to achieve both goals.
“The administration wants mining to take place in this country in a responsible manner in order to obtain the lithium, cobalt, nickel that are needed for battery production for electric vehicles,” Granholm said. “It can be done in a way that respects indigenous communities. It can be done in a way that respects the environment.”
Granholm pointed to a project in California where an energy company is working to extract lithium from salty water from the Salton Sea, an inland lake. She called the project “absolutely sustainable” and “very exciting”.
The two proposed Nevada projects are open-pit mines, a different type of mining, but the energy secretary and former Michigan governor said Thursday that there are “different types of mines” and “they can all be sustainable.”
“It just has to be done the right way,” she said.
Granholm also reaffirmed Biden’s commitment not to revive plans to build a national nuclear waste dump on Nevada’s Yucca Mountains.
Most Nevadans are opposed to storing the nation’s radioactive waste at a site about 100 miles from Las Vegas. Nevada politicians, pitted against their counterparts in states that want to dump their nuclear waste, have struggled for years to block the project.
Granholm said the Biden administration is working to find a place to store the waste where surrounding communities and states would be willing to take it and receive compensation. She said the process would continue this fall, but the government was already seeking information from interested parties.
Granholm appeared at North Las Vegas City Hall with Governor Steve Sisolak and US Representative Steven Horsford.
During her two-day visit that ends Friday, she plans to visit a solar power facility, visit a solar-powered home, and meet elected officials, community advocates and activists.