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Ottawa has greenlit a proposed lithium mine near James Bay, Que., as Canada turns its attention to producing minerals needed for clean technology, like electric vehicle batteries and solar panels.

The decision comes just over a month after the federal government released its critical minerals strategy, which aims to position Canada as a global leader in clean technology by increasing production and processing of critical minerals like lithium, nickel, cobalt, graphite and rare earth elements. The same day as the announcement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Saskatoon, Sask., touring a rare earth element processing plant.

“Our future depends on sustainable projects like this one,” said federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault in a news release about the mine’s approval. “We can only develop those resources by designing from the outset with strong mitigation measures to protect the environment and working in true partnership with Indigenous Peoples.”

Based on the James Bay lithium mine’s environmental assessment report, Guilbeault determined that the mine’s environmental mitigation measures provide a sustainable path for the project to proceed.

Over the lifetime of the project — estimated to be 15 to 20 years — Galaxy Lithium Canada Inc. must comply with 271 conditions that include measures to protect the health of Cree people and their traditional use of the lands and resources in the area. Measures to protect wetlands, waters, migratory and at-risk birds, fish, woodland caribou and at-risk bats are also included in the conditions.

"This is an important decision for Canada,” said Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson in the news release. Wilkinson added that the critical minerals strategy supports “responsible and sustainable critical mineral development to create good jobs, lower emissions, and build the low-carbon economy.”

Production of battery metals like graphite, lithium and cobalt will need to increase by almost 500 per cent by 2050 to keep pace with clean energy technologies, according to a 2020 World Bank report. Budget 2022 promised up to $3.8 billion over eight years to further the critical minerals strategy through exploration, production and recycling. The strategy notes the need to expedite the approval of new projects and aims to take a “one project, one assessment” approach to reduce the duplication of both provincial and federal assessments.

Now that the environmental assessment has been approved, Galaxy Lithium Canada Inc. can start getting any other necessary permits and authorizations from federal departments and the Government of Quebec, the federal news release said.

Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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Sustainable mining is an oxymoron. Steven Guilbeault needs to check with his former Greenpeace associates to brush up on what is and is not sustainable. There would likely be more public support for mining lithium and other minerals needed for "clean" energy if proponents and governments were more honest about these activities that degrade ecosystems and destroy habitat for a variety of life forms.