Lithium Americas Corporation (LAC), the company whose subsidiary Lithium Nevada Corporation (LNC) is currently destroying Thacker Pass by building a massive open-pit lithium mine, has another subsidiary Minera Exar SA, a joint venture of LAC, Ganfeng Lithium (a Chinese mining company) and JEMSE (Jujuy Energía y Minería Sociedad del Estado, an Argentine mining company). Early on in the Protect Thacker Pass campaign we learned that Minera Exar has been accused of human rights violations. We published these findings on June 2, 2021, writing:
“[A]n investigation by Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (“FARN”) found that Minera Exar (an Argentine company formed by Lithium Americas and Ganfeng Lithium and dedicated to the development and production of lithium in the Salar Cauchari-Olaroz) failed to provide free and informed consultation with indigenous communities who own territory where Minera Exar’s lithium project is located. According to statements gathered from community members in FARN’s investigation, Minera Exar also failed to disclose relevant information on risk factors and potential environmental impacts. FARN’s findings resemble claims made by local community members affected by the Thacker Pass project. In a February High Country News article, Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone tribal councilman Billy A. Bell said he only learned about the mine’s approval by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after High Country News asked for his comments nearly a month after the Record of Decision was released.”
Today we learn about a report by The Business and Human Rights Resource Center describing hundreds of alleged human rights abuses committed by 93 mining corporations operating 172 large-scale mining sites between 2010 and 2022.
“The Business and Human Rights Resource Center said the alleged abuses involve global mining for copper, lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel and zinc, all used in critical renewable technologies like solar panels, vehicle batteries and windmills.” — Inside Climate News
This report includes the claims against Minera Exar (i.e. LAC).
The Business and Human Rights Resource Center has created a database of 510 alleged violations, including environmental crimes, and violations of communities’ rights to be consulted about projects that affect them. Included in this database are 4 allegations of human rights violations and environmental crimes against Minera Exar, including allegations that local communities faced “threats & attacks” for protesting the mine. Sound familiar?
In a complaint filed July 30, 2021, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony alleges that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by allowing LNC to begin physical disturbance of the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project site, and failed to make a reasonable and good faith effort to notify tribes that attach religious and cultural significance to the site.
More recently, in a separate complaint filed February 16, 2023, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, and Burns Paiute Tribe again allege that the BLM failed to make a reasonable and good faith effort to consult with the tribes to resolve adverse effects to the Thacker Pass Traditional Cultural District and has refused to supplement the Thacker Pass Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) despite significant new information relevant to environmental concerns related to the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project.
Note that the BLM worked closely with LAC and LNC to develop the EIS, and indeed, much of the EIS was written by the corporation and their contractors.
We should not be surprised about LAC and LNC tactics to threaten mine protestors at Thacker Pass—protestors who have tried all legal avenues to stop the mine, including writing to government agencies, commenting during public comment periods, appealing to state and federal representatives, and exercising their first amendment right of free speech—given LAC’s history of alleged human rights violations. LAC and its subsidiary LNC have recently received a $600 million investment from US-based company General Motors, and have applied for and received commitment for a large Department of Energy loan to help pay for up to three quarters of the Phase 1 Thacker Pass Lithium Mine Project development costs. In other words, a US company and US tax-payers are footing a large part of the bill for a Canadian company with alleged human rights violations to destroy Thacker Pass.
Richard Pearshouse, director of the Environment and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, is quoted in the Inside Climate News article: “You’re seeing a scale up of the means to access these critical minerals, but not yet a corresponding scale up to ensure supply chains meet sustainability and human rights standards.”
Clearly LAC and its subsidiaries have plenty of company with a large number of other mining corporations accused of or proven committing environmental crimes and human rights violations. Perhaps we should conclude that this is just business-as-usual for Lithium Americas.