President Joe Biden’s new $6 trillion budget proposal calls for massive spending increases to advance his climate and infrastructure plans, which include everything from upgrading the nation’s electric grid and building new transmission lines to investing in electric vehicles and other clean-energy technologies. But spending money is one thing. To deliver on its green pledges, the Biden administration will have to do something its environmental supporters are often reluctant to do: Cut the red tape that delays or derails the very development projects needed to build a clean-energy future. It will also have to make tough environmental tradeoffs that sometimes come along with such projects.
One test is unfolding in Nevada in a fight over a planned lithium mine and a rare desert wildflower. A mining company, ioneer Ltd., has proposed building a large-scale lithium-boron mine in western Nevada (the first of its kind in the United States) to supply materials for electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines, and other clean-energy technologies. If approved, the mine could quadruple domestic lithium production and help build 400,000 electric cars each year, according to the company’s estimates, helping to advance Biden’s goal “to win the EV market.”
But a rare plant may stop the project from breaking ground. The site is also home to Tiehm’s buckwheat, a pale yellow wildflower that is only found on a 10-acre patch of lithium-rich soil within the project area. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity, a litigious environmental group, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demanding emergency protections for the buckwheat to block the mine. On Thursday, in response to a court order, the service proposed listing the buckwheat under the Endangered Species Act. The Biden administration now has until September 30 to issue a proposed rule to protect the plant, which could all but doom the lithium mine.
It’s a familiar story: A tangled web of environmental laws and regulations gives litigious groups ample opportunities to stall development projects or thwart them altogether. That strategy works well when environmentalists’ goal is to stop things from happening, but it’s likely to be a major obstacle to building the infrastructure and technological capacity to achieve Biden’s clean-energy vision, which will require many new mining operations, solar and wind farms, transmission lines, and other forms of development.