A federal judge has denied environmentalists request for a court order temporarily blocking the government from digging trenches for archaeological surveys at a mine planned near the Nevada-Oregon line with the biggest known U.S. deposit of lithium.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du also said in an 11-page ruling late Friday in Reno that four conservation groups failed to prove the trenches planned across a total of one-quarter acre (.10 hectare) would cause irreparable harm to critical habitat for imperiled sage grouse.

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She said she plans to rule later this week on a request from a Nevada tribe to join the legal battle as a co-plaintiff and seek a similar restraining order based on claims the digging would disturb sacred burial grounds.

Du emphasized she intends to issue a decision on the merits of the overall case by early next year. She noted any construction of the mine itself is unlikely to begin before the snow melts in the spring of 2022.

Lithium Nevada Corp.’s proposed Thacker Pass mine south of the Oregon line is emerging as a key battleground in the debate over environmental trade-offs tied to President Joe Biden’s push for renewable energy.

Lithium is a key component in electric vehicle batteries.

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