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‘Neighbors’ of New River Celebrate Funding Victory
Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) makes a presentation in Sacramento. Garcia is rallying support locally to keep $28 million in funding for the New River Improvement Project whole in the proposed state 2020-2021 budget. | COURTESY PHOTO

Assembly Member Garcia’s Lithium Commission Bringing Economic Opportunities Closer to Imperial

The state Senate Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Communications voted on Aug. 3 to approve Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia’s Assembly Bill 1657 – Blue Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction in California. This measure would require the California Energy Commission to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission to explore and expand the state’s emerging lithium recovery industry.

“This is a significant opportunity for California as well as our Imperial Valley community to achieve our climate goals, balance the electrical grid, and stimulate economic development in areas most in need of investment,” said Garcia, D-Coachella. “We have not come close to tapping into the potential of this renewable power industry. By actively expanding this energy technology and developing a competitive lithium industry, this commission could serve as a valuable lever of our state’s economic recovery strategy to help bring back jobs and recoup critical economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

State Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, committee chair, applauded Garcia and remarked on the exciting renewable energy and economic possibilities for the state and the Imperial Valley region they both represent.

“I support this enormously because there is just so much more work we need to do to help put California in a sustainable future and this bill is a very important part of that,” Hueso stated in a press release.

A news release issued by Berkeley Lab last week claimed that “Deep beneath the surface of the Salton Sea, a shallow lake in California’s Imperial County, sits an immense reserve of critical metals that, if unlocked, could power the state’s green economy for years to come.” Accordingly, this industry has become referred to as “Lithium Valley.” They assert that the Salton Sea Geothermal Field (SSGF) has a potential inferred lithium resource of 15 million metric tons and quotes CEC chair David Hochschild, saying California’s Lithium Valley has the potential to supply 40 percentof global lithium demand.

Over the last few years, Garcia and Hueso have been generating support and urging their legislative colleagues to acknowledge the enormous potential of this industry to meet climate benchmarks and uplift some of the state’s most impoverished areas. For Garcia, the pandemic has only heightened the significance of this endeavor as a way to bring much needed economic relief to Imperial County whose economic disparities have been further exacerbated.

Tim Kelley, president/chief executive officer of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp., testified on behalf of AB 1657 before the senate committee noting that geothermal producers are the No. 1 taxpayer in Imperial County and they provide over 500 direct jobs and 1,500 ancillary jobs in a community that was just named by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a persistent poverty county  – with an unemployment rate of over 30 percent.

In a letter of support submitted to the committee, Imperial Irrigation District also stated that, “Given the abundance of geothermal capacity and minerals at the Salton Sea Know Geothermal Resource Area, IID will continue to advocate for this important resource and looks forward to continue working with the Legislature and the Commission on this important matter.”

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