© 2023 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WFAE reporter David Boraks explores how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Comments Due On Gaston County Lithium Mine's NC Permit Request

Contractors for Piedmont Lithium drill for core samples in a farm field in northern Gaston County.
David Boraks
Contractors for Piedmont Lithium drill for core samples in a farm field in northern Gaston County two years ago.

Public comments are due Thursday on Piedmont Lithium's application for a state permit to build a lithium mine and processing operation in northern Gaston County. The application details the company's mining plans. Meanwhile, Gaston County commissioners will vote Tuesday on a resolution calling on the state to hold a public hearing on the permit, and on mine-related zoning amendments.

The 1,200-page application to the state Department of Environmental Quality Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources says the mining operation would cover 1,548 acres, average 572 feet deep and require withdrawing up to 2.3 million gallons of water a day.

092721 Piedmont Lithium mine location map.jpg
Piedmont Lithium
North Carolina mining permit application
Map shows the location of Piedmont Lithium's proposed lithium mine in northern Gaston County, about 25 miles west of Charlotte. (outlined in red).

It spells out where the company would dig four open-pit mines, where ore-processing buildings would go, how blasting would work, what chemicals would be used in processing, and what buffers are required between the mine and neighbors. Piedmont Lithium also plans a permanent six-foot fence around the entire site.

Piedmont says it owns or has under contract 1,435 acres and expects to lease another 113 acres.

The proposed mine would produce lithium for use in batteries to power electric vehicles. The company has said it has a contract with Tesla and is seeking other customers. Transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. It argues that the project will create about 500 jobs and help as the nation makes the switch to electric vehicles.

What Happens When the Mine Closes? 

The permit would be good for 20 years and would require that the site be cleaned up and restored once mining stops. Piedmont says in the application that it expects two of the four pits would be turned into 390-foot deep lakes. The other two would be filled in and replanted. Some roads and other infrastructure would remain for possible future industrial uses.

An eventual cleanup will cost nearly $2 million, adjusted for inflation. and says the company must post a $1 million bond to ensure that work gets done.

After comments close, state regulators could decide to call a public hearing. If they do, it must be held within 60 days of the end of the comment period, or before December. After a hearing, the state can follow up with requests for more information. A decision could come sometime next year.

Gaston County concerns 

There's been vocal opposition to the mine in Gaston County from neighbors, business owners and environmental groups. Last month, county commissioners adopted a 60-day ban on new mines that ends next week. That moratorium was designed to give the county time to update its zoning regulations to accommodate a project on the scale of Piedmont Lithium's.

"We wanted to make sure our codes were up to date," said Commissioner Chad Brown on Monday. "We really didn't have a mining section. I mean, we had some things in there. But for example, if somebody wanted to go in and mine and they said, 'Oh, we want to blast 24 days, 24 hours a day,' there was nothing (in the ordinance) that said they couldn't. So basically what we've done is tried to go and figure out how to protect the citizens."

Gaston commissioners will vote Tuesday on a resolution calling for a state hearing. They'll also hold a public hearing and could vote on proposed zoning amendments that would allow Piedmont Lithium's operation and set standards for mining.

Piedmont Lithium spokesperson Brian Risinger said the company is standing by for questions about its state application.

"We believe we made a very thoughtful and thorough application," said Risinger.

"We’re just following the process set forth by (the Department of Environmental Quality Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources) and the county, respecting the process, and stand ready to answer any questions regarding our proposed operations when the time comes," he said.

Piedmont Lithium has not yet filed a formal zoning application for the project.

Meanwhile, the company also said this month it is applying for a federal loan for the project through the U.S. Department of Energy Advance Technologies Vehicle Manufacturing Loan Program.

Read more:

See Piedmont Lithium's mining application on the DEQ website, https://edocs.deq.nc.gov/EnergyMineralLandResources/Browse.aspx?dbid=0&startid=3684

Sign up for our weekly climate newsletter

Select Your Email Format

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.