Court hearing nears as Lithium Nevada pushes forward with illegal work on-site

Winter is a beautiful time at Thacker Pass. If summer is a dusty sullen torpor, fall brooding and wistful and blooming, spring tumultuous and muddy and headlong, winter is a crystalline stillness.

The fall bloom season has come and gone. Sagebrush, ghost pipe, and rabbitbrush who turned the landscape yellow a few months ago are now buried in snow. The native bees, wasps, flies, and moths who flew from flower to flower, gathering nectar and spreading pollen, are dead or burrowed deep into the soil. October’s afternoon sun, which carried a reminder of summer’s heat, is just a memory. Between storms, the land falls silent and frigid.

The energy at Thacker Pass is tense, now. Traveling at this time of year involves at many hours on rural, two-lane highways and one icy mountain pass after another. But more significant by far is the looming reality that the headsman’s axe is raised over this place.

On foot, I follow bobcat tracks into the sagebrush and discover an area of land that Lithium Nevada churned and dug with heavy equipment sometime this fall. Further on, I watch workers installing a small security office and fence. This is supposedly legal under their previous permits (issued years ago for exploration activities), although the company has no intention of pursuing the projects described in them any further. They have their hearts set on a massive open-pit lithium mine, imagining with each beat their stock price soaring higher.


Temperatures drop to 5 degrees, then zero.

The workers call the Sheriff on me, and security guards tail me around the Pass. The deputy seems somewhat friendly — perhaps a façade, perhaps a reflection of the reality that most locals oppose this project. There are many inconvenient truths for dogmatists, among them: no revolution survives without significant support among police and military; and if my skin was a different complexion, I might meet with less friendliness. The security, on the other hand, are hard and unsmiling. To be employed by a mining company to defend a project against indigenous and environmentalist opposition betrays a certain… flexibility of morals.

As is so often the case, what we are seeing at Thacker Pass is interlocking corporate and government collusion to defraud the public, stretch the law beyond the boundaries of reason, and otherwise facilitate private profit by any means necessary. From expedited permitting to failure of tribal consultation; from greenwashing to sweeping the 1865 massacre under the rug; from fining myself and Will Falk $49, 890.13 for providing bathrooms to native elders to lying to members of the community about impacts of the project; from disallowing tribes to bring new arguments in court to misusing old permits to bypass public input and hiding evidence of wrongdoing, this is typical corporate behavior, no different from what Lithium Americas has done in South America or what other corporations do regularly, all around the world.

I decamp to the mountaintop to observe the land from on high.

Red cliffs rise at the base of the mountains, nesting places for Ferruginous hawks, Prairie falcons, and Golden eagles. Geese fly in formation from west to east one day, then east to west a few days later. As they head towards the summit of the Pass, a red semi-truck chugs along behind them, pistons and radiator and fuel tank slowly outracing the muscle, feather, and lung. Near where we maintained our protest camp last year, the machine passes the birds. The thrumming engine overpowers the geese honks, even from this far mountaintop.

Many things in our world are upside down. People are rewarded for behavior that hurts others and steals from the future, and punished for working for collective good and ensuring that land remains intact, water remains clean.

I am in love with Thacker Pass. I have spent hundreds of nights there, wandering on the mountainside as the sunset paints Great Basin clouds with a hundred shades of pink and orange and crimson and the Milky Way emerges overhead, glowing with the light of 400 billion stars. On hundreds of mornings, I have woken up as the sun crests 9,701-foot tall Santa Rosa Peak and spills into Thacker Pass, lighting up the sagebrush and awakening the birds for their dawn chorus.

Luckily, I am not alone. Other people love this land, too. To visit this place with an open heart is to fall in love. We will need that love.

Regardless of what happens in the aftermath of the upcoming January 5th federal court hearings in Reno, the Thacker Pass project will not be abandoned by Lithium Americas. They will continue to pursue their profit doggedly. And we will continue to fight.