Federal officials have blocked lithium mining in the heart of Nevada’s Railroad Valley, a dry lakebed that NASA says is needed to calibrate satellites used for, among other things, forecasting weather and studying climate change.
Since 1993, NASA has used the lakebed to accurately gauge the time it takes for satellite signals to travel to Earth and back. Railroad Valley is large, flat, barren, uniform in color, generally free of clouds, and has remained unchanged over the past three decades, making it the best site in the U.S. for satellite calibration, NASA says.
“Activities that stand to disrupt the surface integrity of Railroad Valley would risk making the site unusable,” NASA spokesperson Jeremy Eggers told the Associated Press.
At NASA’s request, the Bureau of Land Management has declared that 36 square miles of the roughly 90-square-mile lakebed are no longer available for exploration and mining. Nevada-based mining firm 3 Proton Lithium, which holds claims running through the middle of Railroad Valley, said it will no longer be able to access highly valuable deposits of lithium brine buried beneath the lakebed.
The company said it’s a “sad irony” that NASA has opposed the mining of lithium in Railroad Valley, as the mineral is needed to build EV batteries and curb the use of fossil fuels.