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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.

Gaston Commission OKs New Rules To Allow And Regulate Mining

060921 Piedmont Lithium site plan .jpg
A site plan shows potential location of surface mines and processing facilities at the proposed Piedmont Lithium site.
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Piedmont Lithium

Gaston County commissioners on Tuesday night unanimously approved updates to the county development ordinance that allow new mining operations and spell out how they are regulated. The rules affect Piedmont Lithium, which wants to build an $840 million lithium mining and processing facility in northern Gaston County.

Piedmont Lithium, based in Belmont, plans to supply lithium for electric batteries for Tesla and other electric vehicle makers. The company says the project will create about 500 jobs and could open as soon as early 2024.

The zoning change comes just days before the end of a two-month moratorium on new mines in the county. Commissioners adopted that halt to give the county time to evaluate and update their ordinances.

Piedmont Lithium CEO Keith Phillips welcomed the vote in a statement Tuesday night, saying the changes clarify the process.

“The new ordinances enacted by Gaston County’s Board of Commissioners are in the best interests of Gaston County’s citizens and its environment, and we appreciate the guidance and clarity the ordinances provide,” Phillips said. “We believe the safety and environmental standards currently outlined in our proposed Carolina Lithium Project will meet or exceed the standards set in the newly passed regulations, which align with Piedmont Lithium’s core values and initiatives for sustainable social and environmental practices."

Transportation is the nation's largest source of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. So switching to electric vehicles is an important strategy to tackle the problem. The lithium mine project has been a case where that proposed climate remedy runs up against local concerns.

At a meeting in July, most county commissioners and many neighbors of the site expressed concern about traffic, environmental damage and blasting from the proposed mine.

Piedmont Lithium has yet to seek zoning approval for the project. The company has applied for a state mining permit. State regulators are accepting comments through Thursday and then will decide whether to hold a public hearing on the application.

At Tuesday's meeting, county commissioners also passed a resolution that calls on state regulators to hold a public hearing.

The county's new mining rules add "mining and quarrying" as an allowed use, but only in an industrial (I-3) zoning district and only with a special use permit. County commissioners said Tuesday they want the right to review that permit if there are any problems.

According to a county staff report, the rules set standards for mines and quarries, including fencing, access, setbacks, lighting, noise mitigation and landscaping. They also address blasting, dust suppression and hours or operation.

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