Conservationists in the US have filed a complaint with the Securities Exchange Commission accusing an Australian mining company of misleading investors over how soon it might start building a Nevada lithium mine at the centre of a fight over a rare desert wildflower.
Ioneer Ltd. told investors in July its goal was to have all the necessary regulatory approvals in place by the second quarter of next year for the project they estimate could be worth more than $US1.2 billion ($A1.62 billion).
But a government official told AP that US land managers don't anticipate making a formal decision on the fate of the environmentally sensitive project until January 2022.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to order endangered species protection for Tiehm's buckwheat at what's believed to be one of the most promising untapped lithium deposits in the world about 320km southeast of Reno.
It's also the only place on earth the plant is known to exist.
The Centre for Biological Diversity filed the SEC complaint on Tuesday against Ioneer, which stated in a quarterly report to investors in July that its "aim is to be 'shovel ready' and permitted by Q2 2021" - the second quarter of 2021 ending June 30.
The centre cited a Bureau of Land Management document it obtained last month that indicated as recently as May the agency didn't anticipate issuing a formal record of decision for the project on federal land until December 2021.
"Thus, it does not appear possible for Ioneer to complete the BLM permitting process and be 'shovel ready' by Q2 2021," Patrick Donnelly, the centre's Nevada state director, wrote in the complaint to the SEC.
A copy of the agency timeline the centre provided to AP indicated the bureau projected that permitting would be complete and a record of decision issued by December 23, at the earliest.
"Investors shouldn't be deceived about the time involved for the extremely complicated permitting this mine will require," Donnelly said in a statement.
The agency confirmed it doesn't expect to decide whether to approve the project before January 2022.
Ioneer Managing Director Bernard Rowe said the cente's complaints contain "factual inaccuracies and unfounded assumptions and we wholly reject its statements."
"There is always going to be opposition to development from some quarters, but we continue to move forward on the Rhyolite Ridge project in a responsible manner and in line with our stated project timeline," he said in a statement.
Last October, the Centre for Biological Diversity petitioned for a federal endangered species listing of Tiehm's buckwheat and filed a lawsuit against the bureau in a bid to halt the project. The centre withdrew the lawsuit in January, but Donnelly vowed that efforts to protect the flower would continue.
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced on July 22 it had received enough scientific information to warrant a full-year review to determine whether the plant deserves Endangered Species Act protection.
A federal listing won't preclude but could delay the mining project.
Ioneer has spent millions at the site rich with lithium needed to manufacture such things as batteries for Tesla's electric cars.
It has also entered into a research agreement with the University of Nevada as to whether it might be possible to transplant buckwheat grown in a campus greenhouse to the wild.
"The delivery of the Definitive Feasibility Study confirmed our long-held view that Rhyolite Ridge, is a world-class asset with robust economics for a low cost, large-scale and long-life project," Rowe said at the time.