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Idaho Tribe Accepts Massive Battery Made With Chinese Lithium While Protesting U.S. Mining

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The Nez Perce Indians of northern Idaho received the state’s first large-scale battery from Tesla in November.

About the size of a standard shipping container, the Tesla Megapack will store power from solar panels, enabling the tribe to reduce its dependence on local dams. For decades, the Nez Perce have demanded the destruction of four hydropower plants along the Lower Snake River with claims the concrete barriers hamper a near-extinct salmon population.

The Tesla Megapack, installation company RevoluSun CEO Josh Powell told Public News Service, “allows people like the Nez Perce to control their energy where it’s being produced where they have lands.”

“The first battery was delivered in September of this year, and that’s being integrated into the system now,” Powell added.

A primary component of the megapack power station is lithium. The U.S. Geological Survey says the United States is home to some of the richest reserves of lithium but mines less than 1 percent of global production, according to the Wall Street Journal. The world’s top three lithium producers are Australia, Chile, and China, respectively, with the Chinese dominating refinement. Tesla sources its lithium from Chinese companies.

While reaping the rewards of Chinese lithium, the Nez Perce have become the primary opponents against mining on American soil. Their fight was chronicled by “CBS Saturday Morning” in August as tribal members protested operations on the retired site of the Stibnite Mine in Idaho. If the mine was opened, the United States would be able to tap the nation’s largest reserves of antimony, a critical mineral for missile defense systems.

The American lag in mineral production has been a top source of concern among national security officials, as adversarial control of the supply chain poses risk to U.S. industries. The Chinese, who currently control 85 percent of the world’s rare earth minerals, have already wielded their resource monopoly as a weapon, such as when it blocked exports to Japan in 2010. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported on a 2019 Beijing-funded report outlining the communist party’s mineral strategy. It noted “China will not rule out using rare earth exports as leverage to deal with” a U.S.-China trade war.

The United States remains so vulnerable to a major disruption in supply chains from reliance on foreign minerals that the Pentagon warned in October new mines were needed in “the ultimate hedge against non-market inference.”

“New primary production of strategic and critical minerals – in a word, mining, is a necessity to increase resilience in global supply chains,” Danielle Miller of the Pentagon’s Office of Industrial Policy said.

Backyard opposition to domestic projects such as the Nez Perce’s resistance to the Stibnite mine, however, has become a primary obstacle to bringing new mines online despite the United States holding a vast treasure of untouched reserves. This 6-minute video from Kite & Key Media sums up the debacle:

The Nez Perce did not respond to The Federalist’s request for an interview.

Nakia Williamson, the cultural resources program director for the tribe, told CBS the group fears reopening the mine abandoned in the 1990s would cause further harm to the local salmon population.

“We’ve had to sustain so much loss already with many other impacts that have happened to the land, the utter transformation of this landscape,” Williamson told the outlet. “And one more impact could be too much for us to sustain.”

Representatives from Perpetua Resources, the company behind plans to put the mine back online, say it plans to clean up the toxic waste already left behind from the area’s previous operations when it was a lifeline to the allied effort in World War II.

“Redeveloping this already mined area will allow us to generate the funds needed to properly take care of the environment,” reads the company website, pledging the project is “about restoring the site as well as mining it for the much-needed critical mineral antimony and gold.”

While seen as an emblem of wealth, gold plays a critical role in the manufacturing of electronics.