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GM commits $650M to develop Nevada lithium mine tangled in federal lawsuit


GM commits $650M to develop Nevada lithium mine tangled in federal lawsuit

Feb 01, 2023 | 4:02 pm ET
By Jeniffer Solis
GM commits $650M to develop Nevada lithium mine tangled in federal lawsuit
An eagle over Thacker Pass (Photo credit: Max Wilbert)

General Motors plans to invest $650 million in Canada-based Lithium Americas to develop the Thacker Pass mine in Nevada, a project that’s faced intense opposition from conservation groups and tribes in the state.

Under the deal, General Motors will make a joint investment with the lithium mining developer — representing what the companies called the largest investment by an automaker to produce battery raw materials — to fund the extraction of enough lithium carbonate to support the production of up to 1 million electric vehicles per year.

However, the investment is subject to various conditions, including the outcome of an ongoing lawsuit it faces in federal court by conservationists and regional tribes.  

Several tribes who consider Thacker Pass sacred filed suit in 2021 to block development of the mine, arguing that the government failed to provide reasonable outreach to all tribes in the region that attach spiritual and cultural value to the site. The tribes join conservation groups and other plaintiffs in trying to block development. 

The Paiute people refer to Thacker Pass as “Peehee mu’huh” which translates to “rotten moon” in honor of their ancestors who were massacred by the U.S. Cavalry in 1865 in an area of the pass shaped like a moon.

A court decision on the lawsuit is expected in the ‘next couple months,’ according to the federal judge in charge of the case.

The ruling could include overturning the mine’s approval, upholding it, or ordering federal regulators to correct errors through an additional review.

Attorneys for Lithium Americas argued the Thacker Pass project had the potential to greatly increase domestic lithium supply, and that further delays would harm U.S. interests.

Thacker Pass is the largest known source of lithium in the United States and the third largest in the world.

General Motors chair and CEO Mary Barra said the car company has secured all the battery material needed to build more than 1 million electric vehicles in North America in 2025, adding that future production will increasingly draw from domestic sources.

“Direct sourcing critical EV raw materials and components from suppliers in North America and free-trade-agreement countries helps make our supply chain more secure, helps us manage cell costs, and creates jobs,” Barra said in a statement.

Lithium Americas President and CEO Jonathan Evans called the conditional investment by General Motors “a major milestone in moving Thacker Pass toward production.” If the mine continues as planned, production at Thacker Pass is projected to begin in the second half of 2026, according to the developer.

“This relationship underscores our commitment to develop a sustainable domestic lithium supply chain for electric vehicles,” Evens said in a statement.

General Motors investment would be split between two phases. In phase one, GM would purchase 15 million shares of Lithium Americas at a price of $21.34 per share, representing a total investment amount of $320 million and 9.999% ownership. Phase two would see GM invest $330 million in Lithium Americas, after certain conditions are met, including the lithium developer securing sufficient capital to fund the development expenditures to support Thacker Pass.