Experts have valued the lithium contained in a region of Plumbago Mountain in Newry owned by Mary and Gary Freeman at $1.5 billion. The lithium-containing mineral spodumene found in the rock at Plumbago, contains, by one estimate, a higher average lithium content “than any of the ten top spodumene-producing deposits in the world.”

Gary Freeman with one of the large crystals. Submitted photo

This is not the first historic discovery to come from this site. In the early 1970s, several large pockets of tourmaline, after having been named the official state mineral, were found at Dunton Quarry, located in the same area owned by the Freemans today.

Lithium is a critical element in several types of batteries, including those found in electric vehicles. Because of spiking demand for EVs, the global price of lithium has surged to never-before-seen highs. Mainers can reap immense benefits, but only if lawmakers get on board soon. Financial analysts at MorningStar believe the party will be largely over by 2026.

Unfortunately, the Freemans could not find an economical path to excavate the lithium at Plumbago. A law pushed by environmental activists in 2017 requires the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to subject the project to the more stringent mining regulations. This led the Freemans to file an appeal against a DEP decision, arguing that department should consider the Plumbago site a quarry instead of a “metallic mineral” mine.

For those concerned about environmental impacts of lithium extraction, the U.S. Geological Survey has stated that “neither lithium-cesium-tantalum pegmatites nor their parental granites are likely to cause serious environmental concerns.”

Further, Maine law on quarrying protects against environmental damage by mandating setbacks from groundwater sources and by prohibiting quarrying on or near “a significant wildlife habitat or other type of protected natural resource.”


Estimates based on similarly-sized lithium mines in the U.S. suggest that the Plumbago project could bring $4 billion and more than 1,000 high-paying jobs to the area over the first five years of operation. Thankfully, forthcoming bills sponsored by Rep. Mike Soboleski, R-Phillips, and Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, would make small but impactful changes to state law to bring those massive benefits to the region.

Gov. Mills has bet big on lithium-dependent technologies: the two most notable pillars of her administration’s energy policy are “grid-scale” solar projects, for which lithium batteries are needed to store energy, and electric vehicles. Her climate policy outlines a goal of 219,000 EVs – or one for every three Maine households – on the road by 2030. Last year, the administration distributed more than $13 million in federal funds to purchase 34 electric buses for schools across Maine.

With fewer than 5,000 EVs registered in the state according to U.S. Department of Energy data from June 2022, these goals look highly ambitious.

Last year, Congress specified that consumer subsidies for EVs will depend on whether battery materials are sourced in North America. This move was intended to shift American dependence away from “blood batteries,” which exploit children in Africa and China to extract the raw materials. This dependence runs deep; a typical electric vehicle requires six times the mineral components of a conventional car.

Obviously a noble goal, this change in federal law will make it even more costly for Mainers to purchase an EV – and ultimately accomplish Mills’ climate goals – unless an expanded domestic lithium supply chain becomes a reality.

If Mainers are to reap the benefits of the global lithium boom, lawmakers must move to pass Soboleski’s bill as quickly as possible. As lawmakers debate this issue in the coming months, the question will quickly become: What is more important to the governor and her allies in the legislature? Meeting the state’s EV goals, or maintaining their allegiance to environmental activists?

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