A tiny desert flower stands in the way of a big lithium mine

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FILE – This June 1, 2019, file photo provided by the Center for Biological Diversity, shows the rare desert wildflower Tiehm’s buckwheat in the Silver Peak Range about 120 miles southeast of Reno, Nev. An Australian mining company says its pursuit of a huge lithium deposit in Nevada is critical to accelerating the manufacture of electric vehicles and reducing greenhouse gases. Opponents argue the mine can’t be built without causing the extinction of the only native population of the rare desert wildflower known to exist in the world. (Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity via AP, File)

RENO, Nev. (WLNS) – The Interior Department is getting involved in a legal fight over a tiny desert flower in Nevada that is blocking a proposed lithium mine, with potential impacts for the auto industry.

The Australian mining company Ioneer Ltd. wants to dig for lithium and boron about 220 miles southeast of Reno. The metal from that mine would be used to create lithium batteries, demand for which is booming due to the growing market for electric cars.

However, the site is also home to the only known plants of Tiehm’s Buckwheat. The Fish and Wildlife Service was supposed to decide last October whether to add the plant to the Endangered Species List, which would give it federal protection. However, due to budget and staff constraints, the decision was put off until September of this year.

A judge ordered the FWS to reach a decision by May 21st. The Interior Department has filed an emergency request for more time, saying the judge exceeded his authority by setting the new deadline.

Ioneer has until Thursday to intervene in the request. The company has said the flower can coexist with the mine, which it claims will provide enough lithium to power hundreds of thousands of cars every year.

Patrick Donnelly, who is the Nevada director of the Center for Biological Diversity, says the Interior Department’s motion is only meant to stall proceedings while officials try to reach an agreement with Ioneer. He says the officials are “spending more energy fighting our litigation than they are protecting” Tiehm’s Buckwheat from extinction.

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