Piedmont Lithium’s plans to supply Tesla face skeptical North Carolina officials

by | Aug 9, 2023 | Business

By Ernest Scheyder

(Reuters) -Piedmont Lithium on Tuesday drew skepticism and anger at a meeting with local North Carolina officials about its plans for a lithium mine that could supply the electric vehicle battery metal to Tesla.

Shares fell more than 3% on Wednesday, the first trading session after the meeting.

The open-pit mine, if approved, would be one of the few lithium-producing sites in the United States, but there has been little progress in gaining approvals for the project, which the company has been trying to get up and running since 2018.

At the public meeting with the Gaston County Board of Commissioners, which controls zoning changes, officials were irked that Piedmont CEO Keith Phillips did not attend and expressed concern that the 500-foot-deep (152 m) mine could cause wells in the area, which many residents rely on, to run dry.

“I don’t want to see any of our citizens ever be put in that position,” Commissioner Allen Fraley said at the meeting, which was webcast. “How would you like to wake up one morning and your well’s dry?”

Piedmont said it would be open to helping its neighbors in those situations dig deeper wells or connect to municipal water supplies.

Piedmont said Phillips did not attend because its technical experts did instead. The company brought staff focused on environmental and legal issues, as well as experts on blasting, water and other technical areas. The informational meeting was a follow-up to a similar one held in 2021.

The project, which has divided the county of roughly 230,000 just west of Charlotte, underscores broader tension in the U.S. as those who are resistant to living near a mine clash with those who believe the United States must lessen its dependence on China for lithium and other strategic minerals to cope with climate change.

Piedmont first signed a deal to supply lithium to Tesla in 2020 from North Carolina. That deal was paused before being renegotiated in January after Piedmont found a temporary source for the metal from a Quebec lithium mine in which it has an investment. Piedmont’s access to that Quebec supply is expected to end by 2026.

In Gaston County, Piedmont will need the board to approve a zoning variance before it can build the project. The board has said it will not consider such a change until the company receives a state mining permit. Piedmont has been seeking a permit for nearly two years.

Piedmont officials said they would aim to not discharge processed water into local waterways. They added that Piedmont was also open to funding a mine reclamation bond “much larger” than the $1 million required by state regulations, though they did not provide a specific amount.

Multiple residents spoke against the proposed mine at the meeting. None spoke for it.

Piedmont said it thought the meeting went well. “Our goal was to answer questions and open a dialogue,” said spokesperson Erin Sanders.

Brown, who has been a commissioner since 2010 and is a candidate for North Carolina secretary of state, described the meeting as a “mixed bag.”

“I want to be pro-economic development,” Brown said. “But I’m worried about the environmental impact of the mine and the economic impact after it closes.”

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and David Gregorio)


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