RENO, Nev. (AP) — An extremely rare wildflower that grows only in Nevada’s high desert where an Australian mining company wants to dig for lithium should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday.
The agency outlined its intention to propose listing Tiehm’s buckwheat as a threatened or endangered species as part of its belated, 12-month review of a listing petition conservationists filed in 2019. A federal judge said last month the finding was six months overdue and ordered the agency to render a decision within weeks.
The conclusion announced on Thursday that federal protection is warranted could jeopardize Ioneer Ltd.’s plans to build the mine halfway between Reno and Las Vegas.
It also ups the ante in an early test of the Biden administration’s ability to make good on promises to protect public lands and their native species while at the same time pursuing an ambitious clean energy agenda that includes bolstering production of lithium needed for electric car batteries.
Environmentalists say the delicate, 6-inch (15-centimeter) tall wildflower with yellow blooms is on the brink of extinction with fewer than 30,000 individual plants remaining.
Ioneer acknowledges Tiehm’s buckwheat hasn’t been documented anywhere else in the world but insists it can co-exist with the mine.
Nevertheless, the looming listing presents the biggest regulatory hurdle to date for what would be only the second large-scale lithium mine operating in the United States.
Under the court order, the service now has until Sept. 30 to submit a formal rule proposing protection of the plant as a threatened or endangered species. A