End of the Line for Texas Tea
Up on Thacker Pass in Humboldt County, Nevada there has been discovered one of the largest lithium deposits in the world. How can I explain how big-the-big, gigantic, enormous lithium ore deposit is in terms that let you wrap your head around the size of this discovery? Back of the envelop—spitballing—figure over the next 4 decades there is enough material deposited at this site to make batteries for about 1 billion electric automobiles. I could be off either way by a billion or two, but you get the idea there’s a lot of potential sitting on this caldera in the wild wonderful Great Basin Desert.
Mining lithium, in this instance an open pit mine, will tear one hell of a hole into the landscape. Cattlemen and women will lose access to 10,000 acres they have been leasing from the Bureau of Land Management, and consequently if they do lose this lease there will be a predictably tense use of pejoratives, expletives and derogatory language filled with spleen, vexations, and disgust. Range fattened heifers and steers add to the bottom line of the cowhand’s ledger, every single head is make or break.
You take a cowboy with a bent nose, toss these brawlers together with two-thousand open pit miners and you’ve got yourself a timeless tale of fistfights and deer poaching. Once the lithium mine is constructed, once both the extraction department and the refinement and packaging side of the operation, plus the steady stream of big rigs running up and down Nevada State Hwy 293, once that’s all up and running, why you have brought change to a corner of a world that hasn’t much changed at all since the European immigrants arrived and pushed out the Western Shoshone and Northern Paiute Indians, the first people to settle here 17,000 years ago.
Now figure that in this one place if it is done right, you’ll use the best pollution control systems. This will be the first lithium mine in the world to process straight from out of the ground. Evaporation ponds have been the only viable method, but geophysicists believe they have come up with an efficient means of pulling the lithium out of the ore without using evaporation ponds. East or west of Thacker Pass there are hay growing operations, and they’re all jumpy as a pack of coyotes about any enterprise that may threaten the water supply. Toss in some sage grouse endangered species concerns and well there you go, the whole conundrum mashes up into one whopping remake of the shootout at the OK Corral.
There’s a new sheriff in town. I’m going to try to paint you a picture of what the world, cowboys and miners might pull off for “each and every last dog gone one of us.” First, the mine compared to oil and gas explorers will have a footprint incalculably smaller than the fossil fuel barons’ operations. No more stinky refinery’s, no more oil drilling rigs, no more offshore platforms, no more tankers running aground, no more oil spills, no more smoke in the sky, pollution in your lungs, and credit cards at the limit because you drove to Disney World in your dang titanic V-8 internal combustion engine powered all-wheel drive pickup truck.
As for all those good paying jobs. Here’s how I would want to cut this pack of labor faced playing cards. I want the mine company to donate to the Nevada Department of Fish and Game. Make it a sizable donation, every year so long as the mine is in operation. Get some funds set aside for Environmental Protection Agency remediation efforts. Support sage grouse habitat expansion across the entire Great Basin Desert. Why not pay a stipend to the ranchers and hay growers, come up with a formula, cut them in on the deal, wouldn’t hurt anyone and might make folks who’ve been scuffing by in Northern Humboldt County appreciate and support the mine and enterprise. I’d suggest money donated to local schools, increase the size of the region’s health care services, and support the county fair south in Winnemucca. I believe it is time to cut the great Western Shoshone and Northern Paiute Indians into the deal.
Give Bugs and Snakes a Chance
Let me explain what in tarnation all this generosity and altruistic community building is about. The last thing the good people of this region need is a corporation muscling in on their way of life and not getting one red cent for the inconvenience. Instead of alienating every single solitary tractor driver within 50 miles of Thacker Pass try sharing some of the profits, try helping that little guy who hasn’t caught a break since unionization dried up and Ralph Nader’s complaining about Corvairs was a topic of current interest.
Transactional win-win is the key to this enterprise. I would keep the mining town’s footprint as small as small can be. Pay your miners a good living wage so that when a man says, “the drinks are on me…” that the worker can actually afford to pickup the tab down at the famous Alluvial Fan Saloon and share some of the fat in his wallet with those hay growers and cattle operators.
I’d offer classes in how to plant your own garden, kill rattlesnakes, squish scorpions and how to properly clean, oil and your long gun. Volunteer to help the hay growers during harvest, make friends with a Basque sheepherder, and eat more mutton. Church is fine, but taking roping lessons, helping move cattle off a mountain for a neighbor or asking the cutest philly you’ve ever seen to the country fair dance might help everyone and everything. Rodeo queens, barrel racers and a rough and tumble rural woman you might convince to go out for a four-wheel drive to watch sunset could make this lithium mine business something to make a life around.
Capitalism mixed with a properly arranged set of social services could go a long way toward making this new energy system a success as we scramble to save our necks from the “Holy Toledo, it is too dang hot out here.” A more enlightened approach might do us all some good. Disability insurance, retirement benefits, free day care, real health insurance, yoga classes, Wednesday night bingo, and paid vacation time will help everyone.
If Thacker Pass is approved, I’ll have more to say about the project. We don’t have just a world to save we’ve got lives to build. Communities willing to help deploy carbon free technologies should benefit for their effort and sacrifice. The era of fouling our own nest with filthy fossil fuels is coming to a close. I’d prefer to see America smarten up, can’t just be about the fat cats and well connected. Time for us to cut the working man back into the deal. Not a better place to begin than up on this mountain right about starting now before we lose our way, our freedom and this experiment is self-governance. Saddle up buckaroos, we’ve got a whole world to save, and a country in need of more love.