Environmentalists Are Blocking Tesla's Texas Gigafactory Expansion

Industry News / 19 Comments

Climate groups allege it's nowhere near as clean as it's made out to be.

A group comprised of activists and environmentalists is asking the city of Austin to withhold permits it was going to give to Tesla for its new Gigafactory in Austin. Tesla recently opened the new factory where it intends to produce vehicles like the Model Y and Cybertruck. These permits include one for the building of a battery facility near the Lower Colorado River.

The Lower Colorado spans much of Texas, running from just outside Lamesa, through Austin, and out into the Gulf of Mexico . These environmentalists say that Tesla is going to put the river's clean water supply in jeopardy. It's an important source of water for electrical power generation, farming, and drinking water. At least two of those would be affected by a change in the water quality.

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Allegedly, the plant, set to produce batteries for the models like the Tesla Model Y and (maybe) the Cybertruck, will require a lot of the Colorado's already scarce water, as well as produce toxic chemicals. The group's letter to Mayor Steve Adler says the battery plant could leak those chemicals into the river, devastating the local ecosystem. It's A Civil Action all over again, at least according to the group.

The letter asks some pointed questions, such as, "Where will the toxic waste end up?" and, "How will Austin ensure that it doesn't pollute the water?" These are valid questions that need answering before Tesla can make its new batteries.

The letter, penned by groups like PODER, the Hornsby Bend Alliance, and the Texas Anti-Poverty Project, asks that the permits be withheld until Tesla makes commitments to protect the Colorado and use it responsibly. It states that extreme caution should be taken to "avoid contamination of surface, ground and sewerage waters."

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Here are some brief excerpts from the letter: "To date, Tesla has failed to meaningfully engage nearby residents, and elected leaders have not applied enough pressure to bring the company to the table." The letter goes on to say "Since 2020, we note that the company has cleared swaths of trees, moved mountains of dirt, filled in ponds, and poured over 100 contiguous acres of concrete for its factory, with apparently no priority given to the creation of a promised 'ecological paradise' on the riverfront."

That last quote is in reference to Musk saying that stated the factory would be "an ecological paradise - birds in the trees, butterflies, and fish." Whether the Austin government decides to act on this remains to be seen, and we'll be reporting on it if they do.

Tesla's rival, Rivian, recently faced similar resistance in Georgia, but eventually got the go-ahead. Whether Tesla can do the same remains to be seen.

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