Energy & Environment — Tax breaks set stage for lithium boom

Demand for lithium is poised to surge thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act’s tax credits. Meanwhile, people harmed by contamination at Camp Lejeune seek answers, and a new study suggests natural disasters rewire our brains. 

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Environmentalists urge caution over lithium rush 

Nevada and other states are poised to rake in huge benefits from a boom in lithium mining for batteries pushed by federal incentives as U.S. demand surges for electric vehicles (EVs). 

Environmentalists, however, are warning amid investments from the Biden-backed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that a heavy-handed approach to lithium mining could bring many of the same problems associated with fossil fuel extraction. 

What’s the hurdle? The U.S. holds an estimated 3.6 percent of world lithium reserves, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, but extracting it is a painstaking process that requires infrastructure the U.S. has largely neglected to build since the height of American lithium production in the 1960s. 

Currently, the U.S. has only one lithium production site — Silver Peak in western Nevada. The sector is dominated by Chile, China and Australia, something the administration hopes to change with billions in new investments. 

But: The Inflation Reduction Act passed by congressional Democrats contains a number of tax incentives for EVs and specifically requires their components be built domestically or by U.S. trading partners to qualify, setting the stage for a flurry of new domestic development. 

  • “The way that the new EV tax credit is structured, there is a big incentive for domestic mineral extraction and processing,” said Albert Gore, executive director at the Washington-based Zero Emission Transportation Association.  
  • “One of the goals of the IRA is to onshore as much of the supply chain for these vehicles as possible, and there are a lot of benefits to that, both economic in terms of job development in the United States, as well as national security and resiliency to supply chain shocks and other macro issues that can affect manufacturing,” added Gore, who is the son of the former vice president.

Last week, Australian firm Ioneer announced a loan of up to $700 million from the Department of Energy for a new lithium development site in Nevada, conditional on securing the required permits. Australia is among the nations that qualify for the IRA credit. 

Read more about the lithium boom here. 

Exposure victims lambaste delays from military, DOJ

Thousands of Americans are in the dark as to when they might be able to seek justice for a historic set of toxic exposure claims, even though Congress removed the barriers that were blocking them from doing so months ago.  

Some of those involved were shocked to see their cases, related to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, dismissed last month over a technicality, requiring them to start the process over again. But they don’t plan to give up the fight just yet. 

  • “We sat in the gallery of the Senate three hours while the Senate voted on three different amendments and then took the final vote on the PACT Act,” said Mike Partain, a breast cancer survivor born at Camp Lejeune. “Veterans were crying. They were hugging each other.”  
  • Partain was referring to the Honoring our PACT Act, an expansive bill signed into law in August that improved benefits for veterans exposed to toxins. Within the bill is a measure permitting lawsuits for those who endured on-base water contamination decades ago at Camp Lejeune.   

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that payouts to Camp Lejeune victims will amount to about $6.7 billion through 2031.  

Victory turns to frustration: “I can’t explain how elated, how relieved I was that it finally passed. I turned around and looked at Jerry and said, ‘We won, Jerry, we won,’” said Partain, who has long advocated for the legislation with retired U.S. Marines Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger.  

But those feelings of elation have turned into frustration.   

The same day that President Biden signed the bill into law, groups of plaintiffs filed multiple lawsuits against the U.S., alleging that the government failed to ensure that toxic chemicals “did not seep into the water used by the men and women who were willing to lay their lives on the line.”     

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin. 

Study: Climate trauma can change brain function

Trauma from environmental and climate disasters can cause long-term changes in cognitive functioning, according to research published Wednesday in the journal PLOS Climate. 

Researchers from the University of California San Diego and California State University used existing data from survivors of the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. In the 2023 study, researchers found that among a subset of people directly exposed to the fire, electroencephalography (EEG) scans showed noticeable differences in brain activity and cognitive function. 

Much of the existing body of research on climate change-fueled disasters and their effects focuses on more subjective, self-reported impacts like mood or stress disorders, co-author Jyoti Mishra, an associate psychiatry professor at UCSD, told The Hill. 

  • “We actually wanted to see if there are any objective cognitive and brain function changes that are seen in individuals who are exposed to the fires,” she said. “And we find that indeed, there are specific cognitive differences relative to a control population that was never exposed to the fires.” 
  • Those differences, she said, include variations in interference processing activity that indicated the survivors of the fire were more prone to distractibility, a phenomenon they observed in both those directly exposed to the fire and those indirectly exposed.
  • People exposed to the fire also indicated higher frontal-lobe activity, suggesting they need to exert more effort to process information. 

Read more about the study here. 

WTO CHIEF CALLS FOR GLOBAL CARBON PRICING

Adopting a global carbon pricing scheme could help countries streamline supply chains and mitigate concerns about competition, according to the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  

“A shared global carbon-pricing framework would best provide certainty for businesses and predictability for developing countries,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said Thursday evening at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. 

  • Today there are at least 70 different — and “fragmented” — carbon pricing setups around the world, according to Okonjo-Iweala. 
  • That inconsistency ultimately hampers the decarbonization of trade and supply chains, the World Economic Forum stated following Okonjo-Iweala’s address. 

As a result, the WTO has begun working with the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund to streamline carbon pricing, Okonjo-Iweala confirmed. 

In addition to expressing her support for shared global carbon pricing framework, Okonjo-Iweala also called for the elimination of “skewed” import tariffs that plague national borders today. 

  • Such tariffs, she explained, favor high-carbon imports over those whose production have generated fewer emissions. 
  • “Because of countries’ widespread tendency to impose higher tariffs on relatively clean finished goods, but lower tariffs on often more-polluting inputs and intermediates, trade policy skews in favor of dirtier products,” Okonjo-Iweala said. 

Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin. 

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • California’s next flood could destroy one of its most diverse cities. Will lawmakers try to save it? (Grist
  • Overhaul plan for ERCOT power market wins approval from Texas regulators. (The Austin American-Statesman
  • Brazil’s Defender of the Indigenous Brings Their Fight to the Shed (The New York Times
  • ‘Extreme’ drought completely eliminated in California; Colorado River Basin lags behind (ABC News
  • The Wind Industry’s Success Has Become Its Biggest Threat (Bloomberg

🦛 Lighter click: What’s in a name?

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you next week.  

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