Got a good question on the blog today that I think is worth highlighting here.

Mike asks: Who makes the decision of whether a natural landscape gets destroyed so a mine…lithium or otherwise…can be built? Is it the Nevada state legislature? Congress? Dept. or Interior/BLM? Who…ultimately… decides it’s a good idea to blow-up mountains?

Answer: It was already decided a long time ago, in the constitution of the United States, which treats nature as property, and the commerce clause of the constitution, which elevates the needs of commerce above all else. These decisions have only been strengthened through the years via the courts.

The 1872 Mining Law (codified by Congress) gives broad discretion over the use of public land resources to the private sector. It allows corporations to explore for minerals and establish mining rights on federal lands without authorization from any government agency. This is known as “free access” and it is a cornerstone of the 1872 Mining Law. If a site contains a deposit that can be profitably marketed, the corporation has the right to mine “regardless of any alternative use, potential use, or non-use value of the land.” An annual $100 holding fee is all that is required to retain this right to mine.

As Will describes in his video, NDEP and other regulatory agencies’ primary function is to make sure those corporations check all the boxes required by other laws like the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. As we’ve seen, these laws do not prevent harm; they simply require that a corporation obtain a permit by jumping through a few hoops before they cause harm.

So to answer Mike’s question: the decision about blowing up mountains was made a very long time ago, and because of current US law, there is almost nothing legal we can do to stop mining. This leaves us with two options:

1) change the law — a long, slow process that some people are working on.
2) direct action.

Thank you for the great question Mike.

Image: Painting of a mine in Utah by Jean Arnold from her collection “Extraction” (with permission).