A pair of rules governing how lithium is extracted from the Great Salt Lake had its first public hearing on Monday.

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of rules governing how lithium is extracted from the Great Salt Lake had its first public hearing on Monday.

The rules, which will dictate how companies extract the critical mineral from the lake, are being put forward by Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands and the Utah Division of Water Quality. Both agencies are seeking to balance protecting the imperiled lake and ensuring industry can extract an increasingly in-demand mineral to power our electrified world.

"If you are an operator on Great Salt Lake, it tells you how you apply to extract lithium," said Jamie Barnes, the director of the Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands. "How you go through that feasibility process with us and how you potentially can obtain a royalty agreement."

The proposed rules require mineral extraction companies to detail how much water they'll use and what they'll do to mitigate water losses to the Great Salt Lake. They follow bills passed by the Utah State Legislature in response to the environmental crisis surrounding the lake that allow state agencies to take more drastic measures to protect it.

"We're looking at how much water is extracted during this process and also making sure that when these companies do get established on the lake, they’re not hurting the biota of the lake," Barnes said in an interview with FOX 13 News.

The state of Utah would also get royalty payments of any lithium taken with the money earmarked for an account to specifically help the Great Salt Lake. The proposed rule sets it at 5% of the market rate for more water intensive operations.

"That will increase the more lithium increases per ton," Barnes said.

Potentially that could be hundreds of millions of dollars for the state.

"It could generate millions, to hundreds of millions, potentially even billions of dollars to the state that would then go back into the lake and help to save the Great Salt Lake," Barnes said.

At Monday night's hearing, mining and mineral company representatives sat in the back of the room and a number of people crowded into an online meeting. But only one person offered a public comment. It was a representative of the Dia Art Foundation, which owns the world-renowned Spiral Jetty on the north arm of the Great Salt Lake.

"Some of these operations and extraction sites could have a real impact on the sites, actual visitor experience," said the foundation's Jeffrey Carter.

Mining representatives FOX 13 News spoke with after the meeting said they were still reviewing the proposed rules and would submit comments in writing later.

House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, said he is in favor of the proposed rules.

"There’s a fine balance between maximizing our resources and being good stewards of what we’ve been given. The draft rules proposed by the Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands will protect this balance by requiring responsible mineral extraction that secures the future viability of the lake and ensures the state receives fair and just compensation for the lithium extracted," the Speaker said in a statement to FOX 13 News. "The Legislature will continue to look for ways we can responsibly extract critical minerals from the lake while preventing waste and upholding the state’s fiduciary obligation to manage all aspects of our public resources."

The divisions will take public comment until Dec. 31. People can weigh in on a website created for the public comment period. If there are no substantive changes, they would likely go into effect in April.

"This rule was developed with the Great Salt Lake in mind," Barnes said. "The one thing we want to do is we don’t want to bring any harm to the Great Salt Lake."

Fox 13 Reporter
Ben Winslow is FOX 13's reporter on Capitol Hill covering a wide variety of topics including politics, polygamy, vice and courts. He has been in the news business in Utah for more than 20 years now, working in radio, newspaper, television and digital news. Winslow has received numerous honors for his reporting, including a national Edward R. Murrow award; the Religion Newswriters Association Local TV News Report of the Year; the Utah Broadcaster's Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Readers of Salt Lake City Weekly and Q Salt Lake have named him their "Best TV news reporter" for many years now. He co-hosts "Utah Booze News: An Alcohol Policy Podcast," covering the state's often confusing and quirky liquor laws. Winslow is also known for his very active Twitter account keeping Utahns up-to-date on important news.

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