Mining for lithium and other electric battery materials prove it's not easy being green. | Hits & Misses | Salt Lake City Weekly

Mining for lithium and other electric battery materials prove it's not easy being green. 

Hits & Misses

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Not Easy Being Green
No matter how environmentally conscious you are, there's always a cost. Take electric vehicles—while better for air quality, their manufacture and use still creates a large carbon footprint. In Utah, the environmental challenge is not only air pollution, but also water conservation. So it's no wonder that State Engineer Teresa Wilhelmsen was all excited about a new technology that promised to make mining—specifically lithium mining—water neutral. An Australian company wants to drill on the Green River, but Wilhelmsen is re-evaluating her approval after protests that the extraction isn't what it's billed to be. "A March 2023 study found that the method can actually use more water than evaporative techniques," The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Yeah, that's not what anyone wants in a drought-stricken state, where water could be sucked from the Colorado River or where local groundwater might be contaminated. Lithium is vital for batteries and other electronic components. The question is, at what cost?

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Digging Deeper
Meanwhile, uranium mining is making a comeback in yet another effort to bolster nuclear energy as a clean alternative. Without getting into that debate, the question is whether mining on the sensitive Colorado Plateau makes sense. Environmentalists note that higher-grade uranium can be imported from Australia and Canada. The native tribes in the area also have some well-founded skepticism. Utah saw a uranium boom after Charlie Steen, an unemployed oil geologist, discovered uranium on the Plateau. Called "the Uranium King," he set off a frenzy of get-rich-quick schemes that made millions for some and sent others to the poorhouse. The point is that the Plateau still holds the promise of uranium riches. It also holds the threat of both environmental and health problems associated with mining.

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Primary Colors
Now is the time to get familiar with your ballot. Problem is—you may not see it. Utah is a partially closed primary state. It's also a one-party red state. The Republican primary voter rolls closed in January, so if you're considering registering, don't. The Utah GOP is typically worried about strategic voting from the opposition, which would taint the results. Recent elections saw an effort to get voters to cross over and push moderate candidates to a win. Ask Becky Edwards and Evan McMullin how that worked for them. Still, if you're unaffiliated, you can request a Democratic ballot—for what good it might do. "Closed primaries preserve a party's freedom of association by better ensuring that only members of the party influence that party's nominees," the organization Fair Vote says, "but critics claim that closed primaries can exacerbate the radicalization that often occurs at the primary stage, when candidates must cater to their party's 'base' rather than the political center." Utah is the poster child for freedom and radicalization.

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About The Author

Katharine Biele

Katharine Biele

Bio:
A City Weekly contributor since 1992, Katharine Biele is the informed voice behind our Hits & Misses column. When not writing, you can catch her working to empower voters and defend democracy alongside the League of Women Voters.

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