Opinion | Susan Knopf: Is there an electric vehicle in your future?

Are you thinking about a new car? I’ve got more than 160,000 miles on my car. So I’m thinking about it. It’s probably still a couple years away.

I thought I would definitely buy an electric car. Our county’s building codes now require an electric vehicle outlet in the garage. We put one in when we renovated. It’s not cheap. The cars aren’t cheap either.

Lithium concerns me. That’s what makes the batteries work. There’s a proposed lithium mine in Nevada.

The people who worry about all things green are not really on board. Does that surprise you? It surprised me.

Here’s the deal. We are going to need a lot more lithium to power electric vehicles. Right now, there’s just one lithium mine in the U.S. It’s in Nevada. It’s been in operation since 1967. We import most of the lithium we need for our products.

If Lithium Nevada Corp. gets its way, the largest lithium mine in the U.S. will be at Thacker Pass, Nevada. The proposed mining project reportedly spans nearly 18,000 acres. It would include an open pit mine and a sulfuric acid plant.

Inside Climate News reports that the final environmental impact statement reports the mining operation will emit 152,713 tons of carbon dioxide annually for 46 years!

Here’s where it starts to sound a lot like our own little mining nightmare in Summit County. Remember when Peak Materials applied to put a gravel pit in northern Silverthorne? Peak is a subdivision of Kilgore Materials, and the proposed gravel pit was another subsidiary. This is how they dodge accountability and keep you from knowing what’s really going on.

In Nevada, same story. Lithium Nevada is a subsidiary of Lithium Americas, but according to Inside Climate News, it’s owned by “China’s Ganfeng Lithium, the world’s largest producer of the element.” And we all know how much China cares about global health and environmental issues. Been there. Done that.

Inside Climate News summarized the numbers in the final environmental impact statement. Again, it’s just like our own issue with the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. The issues are spelled out in black in white. But it’s buried in a pile of data, and you need an expert to tell you what it all means.

The production of every ton of lithium will consume 500,000 gallons of water. That’s 1.7 billion gallons per year. Nevada has its share of water issues, worse than Colorado. According to the report, cited by The New York Times, the water will be polluted for 300 years! This is not a strong selling point.

And after 46 years of mining lithium, the Chinese will leave us a mountain of waste, according to The New York Times interpretation of the environmental report.

Fortunately, it looks like Native Americans are willing to save the white man from his own folly again.

Local Nevada Paiute and Shoshone tribes are working with ranchers and other concerned citizens to oppose the mining permit. Some call themselves “radical environmentalists.” They vow to stop the mine even if they have to put their bodies between the site and the giant earth-clearing machines.

You might have to count Pope Francis among the radicals. In November 2019, he said in a formal address that “ecocide (is) the massive contamination of air, land and water resources, the large-scale destruction of flora and fauna, and any action capable of producing an ecological disaster or destroying an ecosystem.” He further advocated for adding ecoside to the catechism of the church as a sin against the common home. He called for the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, to add a new global crime of ecoside.

Reuters did some math using a model created by Argonne National Laboratory. Bottom line, depending on how your electricity is generated — using coal or totally renewable sources like Norway — your new electric vehicle rolls off the manufacturing line taking a greater toll on the planet. After you drive it about 13,500 miles, you break even. And eventually, through the lifetime of ownership, your electric vehicle will produce a smaller carbon footprint than the fossil fuel powered vehicle.

I haven’t decided about the electric vehicle yet. I’m going to keep researching. But one thing is for sure: I don’t think of lithium batteries as green anymore.

Susan Knopf’s column “For the Record” publishes biweekly on Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at sdnknopf@gmail.com.

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