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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.

Proposed Gaston lithium mine gets more time to submit data

040519 Lithium test samples.jpg
David Boraks
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WFAE
Workers collected drill core samples in 2019 on the site of the proposed Piedmont Lithium mine in northern Gaston County.

State mining officials have given Piedmont Lithium another six months to complete studies required for approval of a permit for the company's proposed lithium mine in northern Gaston County.

Piedmont wants to build the 1,500-acre mine and processing operation east of Cherryville, to supply lithium for electric vehicle batteries.

The company requested the extension two weeks ago, saying it needed more time. Piedmont now has until early Jan. 8 to submit studies on wastewater and other potential discharges.

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Piedmont Lithium
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Map shows the location of the proposed Piedmont Lithium mining operation in northern Gaston County.

A spokeswoman on Friday reiterated the company's goals of winning a mining permit and obtaining Gaston County zoning approval next year. Construction would begin in 2024, with production beginning by early 2026.

State Department of Environmental Quality officials requested additional information from Piedmont in January and the company partially fulfilled that request in late June. The more than 1,000 pages of information include details on how the company will limit blasting on cloudy days, how it will control erosion and sedimentation, and lists of solid and liquid waste discharges.

The information includes a proposed construction plan and a series of new, more detailed site maps showing locations of the mining pits and processing operations, drainage, and effects on streams. Regulators had said previous maps were difficult to read.

Piedmont plans to dig four open pits averaging more than 500 feet deep. State law requires the company to spell out how it will clean up the site after it closes the mine in 20-30 years. The company has said it expects to turn two of the four pits into 390-foot deep lakes. The other two would be filled and replanted.

Piedmont's vice president for Safety, Environment and Health Monique Parker said in a statement Friday that some of the remaining questions concern possible leaching from the pits once they are closed and reclaimed.

"We are conducting Leaching Environmental Assessment Framework (LEAF) testing on our products that would be backfilled into our pits. These tests will provide necessary details of anything that may come from these sources and will allow Piedmont the opportunity to manage all leachate from the backfill areas to support environmentally responsible reclamation.

Parker said the company has been waiting for some test results.

"Many labs are backed up and there have been delays in our testing timelines. The labs are working with us to complete requests timely but will not impact our expected mine permit and zoning timelines," she said.

Piedmont Lithium has said it is waiting until it gets the state mining permit before it files a formal rezoning request with Gaston County. The area of the proposed mine is mostly agricultural and residential and would need to be rezoned for mining.

After citizens raised concerns about the project last year, the Gaston County Commission adopted new county rules governing mines.

Because of delays in obtaining state and county approvals, Piedmont Lithium officials have been exploring other revenue sources to carry the company until the Gaston mine is up and running. That includes obtaining lithium ore from mines in Canada and Ghana and possibly building another processing plant in the U.S.

As Piedmont pushes for approvals, executives have cited the mine as a way to reach the federal government's goals for developing domestic sources of lithium.

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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.