United States: a lithium mine project arouses environmental fears | TV5MONDE

United States: a lithium mine project arouses environmental fears | TV5MONDE
United States: a lithium mine project arouses environmental fears | TV5MONDE

When Kristal Lee and her husband bought their North Carolina home two years ago, they thought they would live there “forever.” But a nearby lithium mine project is giving them sleepless nights.

“We don’t really have the option to move at the moment, especially because of the economic situation and inflation,” Kristal Lee, 41, told AFP.

“We’ve been very concerned since we heard about it,” she adds, of Piedmont Lithium’s $1.2 billion project to mine the crucial metal in Gaston County for vehicle batteries. electrical.

President Joe Biden is working to develop an American electric vehicle and battery industry as part of the electric transition but also to reduce any dependence from abroad, in particular from China.

Behind Chinese domination, the main players in the lithium industry are Chile and Argentina.

In the United States, it is present in large quantities in Nevada, California and North Carolina, where the subsoil of Gaston County attracts covetousness.

Demand for lithium-ion batteries is expected to jump by nearly 30% per year between 2022 and 2030, according to McKinsey.

But the environmental fears raised by the various extraction projects illustrate the skepticism of some residents concerning the long-term benefits of public policies.

Ripped floors

Among the most significant risks associated with mining operations, Aimee Boulanger cites water pollution and the threat to water supplies.

“Moving rocks to reach the ore guts the soil, with the risk that soil and metals normally locked underground will flow into streams, rivers and drinking water,” explains Ms. Boulanger, executive director Responsible Mining Assurance Initiative (IRMA).

Piedmont plans to analyze and treat the water that will flow into the mine, before using it or evacuating it. But Ms Lee fears potential failures.

To calm concerns, the Piedmont project raises the possibility of digging new wells and providing access to the municipal drinking water network, or providing bottled mineral water.

But this is not enough to appease the residents.

Kristal Lee, a mother of five, also worries about the dust and noise emanating from the open-pit mine where Piedmont plans to carry out daily explosions. The company says it will not damage surrounding structures.

Noting the positive impacts of these mining projects, Ms. Boulanger warns that we must also “ensure that they do not cause more significant or lasting damage than their benefits.”

For Jim McMahan, another resident, the operation of the mine for ten years is also problematic.

“Small quantity”

“They will provide jobs for a limited period of time,” notes this 65-year-old retiree, who has gone into agriculture. But “jobs will leave and, perhaps, farms will disappear.”

“I want clean air,” says Locke Bell, 73, a former county prosecutor, “but I don’t want the reckless destruction of soil and water to produce a small amount of lithium.”

Piedmont Lithium received an operating permit from the state of North Carolina in May, but others at the local level are still necessary.

Chad Brown, president of the Gaston County Council, recognizes the need to “do the right thing. They need to give us guarantees.” According to him, a decision could come in November.

Kristal Lee has lived in this county for almost ten years, but she learned about Piedmont’s project a year after moving into her current home, when she received a gift – coffee – and a note sent from the company.

Piedmont plans to produce 30,000 tons of lithium hydroxide annually, “significantly” increasing American capacity.

Albemarle, the world’s largest producer, plans to reactivate an abandoned mine in Kings Mountain, a small town in North Carolina.

The group explained that it benefited from measures adopted by the Biden administration, such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and received nearly $150 million in subsidies.

But in Gaston County, these climate-friendly government provisions leave a bitter taste. For Jim McMahan, the lithium mining process is “invasive”.

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