Lithium deposit could generate billions for Maine’s economy, but only if lawmakers get on board
The Maine Monitor broke the story earlier this year: Plumbago North in Newry, Maine is home to one of, if not the densest, lithium deposit in the world. The site is thought to hold $1.5 billion worth of the critical mineral used in many types of electric vehicle batteries.
While most lithium mined in the world today comes from Australia, Chile, Argentina, or China, the discovery of the Plumbago North deposit could be a huge opportunity for Mainers to benefit from growing global and domestic demand for the mineral.
Unfortunately, the owners of the site could not find a realistic path to extract the lithium due to restrictions in the Maine Metallic Mineral Mining Act (MMMA). In 2017, the law was amended to include new regulations and prohibitions for metallic mineral mines located near sources of water. In July, a representative from Gov. Janet Mills’ DEP told The Maine Wire that the law prompts regulators to define the spodumene which encases the lithium at Plumbago North as a “metallic mineral” because it will be “excavated for its metallic mineral content.”
How big of an opportunity could this be for Maine if state lawmakers clarified the MMMA? Piedmont Lithium, a company which specializes in lithium mining around the world, is planning a site in Gaston County, North Carolina, on which they expect to begin construction in 2024. This is a comparable site to Plumbago North, since it contains a similar amount of lithium hydroxide, even though the Maine deposit is about four-times as dense.
By the fifth year of operation, Piedmont estimates that the project will directly employ 428 high-paying professionals, with average compensation of more than $82,000 per year. Piedmont also estimates the project will have indirectly supported 1,051 jobs and will have contributed nearly $4 billion in economic output to the region by year five.
Given current tax rates, the State of Maine would take in more than $6 million over five years just from the income derived from direct and indirect employment at this single site. Nearly $4 billion of cumulative economic impact over five years is certainly nothing to sneeze at, especially for western Maine.
However, Maine would leave these benefits on the table without legislative action to amend the MMMA. Meanwhile, Gov. Mills’ climate action plan set a goal to put an EV in roughly one-in-three Maine driveways by 2030, more than 200,000 in total. President Biden and Congress went as far to hinge consumer EV subsidies on the amount of battery materials produced in North America or a US trading partner.
If federal and state policy keep incentivizing electric vehicles without a reliable supply chain, automobile prices for Americans could climb even higher. Why shouldn’t Mainers reap some of the reward?