The Blue-Ribbon Commission on Lithium Extraction, known as the Lithium Valley Commission, made 15 recommendations. The Lithium Valley Commission released the full report on December 7, 2022. Recommendations include financial investments, infrastructure development, environmental studies, community initiatives, and collaboration.  

Updates were provided during the April 19, 2024, Workshop on Lithium Valley. Recommendation updates start at 1:46:00.

Recommendation #1: Establish a Lithium Valley priority permitting process that includes additional resources for agency action on applications for geothermal, direct lithium extraction (DLE), and related manufacturing, production, or assembly projects identified by the state as essential to the development and growth of Lithium Valley.

Status: This is being achieved through the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) opt-in permitting program, which provides the option of an accelerated permitting timeline of 270 days for clean energy projects including geothermal and lithium recovery. Imperial County is also working to meet this need through the county’s Specific Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which would create a permitting process that would allow for expedited permitting of projects within the Lithium Valley area.

Recommendation #2: Accelerate state planning for investment and upgrades in transmission for geothermal power plants in Imperial Valley to be online in 2024 and over the next decade.  

Status: The state continues supporting efforts led by local partners to secure additional investments for transmission. The California Independent System Operator’s (Cal ISO) 2023-2024 Transmission Plan, projects 21 gigawatts of geothermal development, primarily in the Imperial Valley and in Southern Nevada.

Recommendation #3: Establish the Southeast California Economic Zone, which includes Imperial County and Eastern Coachella and Palo Verde Valleys. This regional economic zone should be recognized by federal, state, and local governments, and eligible to compete for funding and investments.

Status: Assembly Bill 2757, introduced by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia this year, directly addresses the recommendation. It would designate the Southeast California Economic Region to better align with state and federal programs, services, and funding within communities most impacted by lithium recovery and processing of lithium and other minerals from the Salton Sea. The bill would also authorize the Southeast Economic Region to facilitate regional collaboration on developing a strategy-driven plan for economic development.

Recommendation #4:  California should increase funding – and identify alternative funding sources — for research and development, start-up companies, and expansion of lithium battery and battery component manufacturing and recycling, especially cathode production using lithium produced through environmentally preferable methods.

Status: There are a number of existing state funding programs that support this recommendation. PowerForward, funded under CEC’s Clean Transportation Program, is a new grant program that provides $35 million in funding to attract and retain zero-emission vehicle battery manufacturing across California’s supply chain, including the Salton Sea region. 

Recommendation #5: Federal, state, and local governments should foster collaboration across the supply chain of lithium-related technologies by creating networks, meetings, and other forums that regularly bring business, research, Tribes, communities, and government agencies together to identify short and long-term economic opportunities.

Status: Both the county and state have been working on this item. The state has co-hosted multiple major events to draw attention to the potential of the Salton Sea region. One example is Battery Day 2024, co-hosted by the CEC and the Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). Lithium Valley was a key focus for this year. This event brought together government, business, nonprofit, and labor partners to focus on building out California’s battery economy. Imperial County has also been working on a cleantech hub initiative to create a local hub for collaborative building across the lithium-related supply chain. 

Recommendation #6: The State and Imperial County should establish a business service center in the county to facilitate access to business development incentive programs to benefit residents of disadvantaged communities, Tribal members, small businesses, and entrepreneurs.

Status: Go-Biz and the Employment Training Panel (ETP) are providing ongoing support to local economic development initiatives. Imperial County has been selected as a finalist for the Economic Development and Administrations Recompete Pilot Program through the Lithium Valley Recompete Plan. If selected, Imperial County and its partners would receive significant funds to help create a business service center.

Recommendation #7: Support the development of a circular lithium economy based in California, with environmentally responsible sourcing of raw materials, life-cycle analysis, requirements for product design that support recovery, reuse, and recycling of materials, and development of effective recovery infrastructure, built with the assistance of public-private coalitions and effective community engagement. 

Status: Through the state, there have been several initiatives including developing Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation and regulation related to lithium battery recycling and waste recovery in coordination with the Department of Toxic Substances Control. EPR is an environmental policy approach that holds producers responsible for product management through the product life cycle. EPR supports recycling and materials management goals that contribute to a circular economy. This statewide framework will help create the market demand for a circular lithium economy based in Imperial County and the Salton Sea region. 

Recommendation #8: The State should fund a health impact analysis (e.g., assessment or study) for Eastern Coachella Valley, to be carried out by an academic institution or public agency, relating to increased development in the Salton Sea Known Geothermal Resource Area (KGRA) of geothermal power plants and DLE facilities and related processing, production, and manufacturing activities. 

Status: Imperial County is partnering with San Diego State University (SDSU) for a health impact analysis focused on Imperial County. Academic institutions are also engaged in various health studies focused on the Salton Sea region. 

Recommendation #9: Provide resources for local and state agencies and Tribes to proactively seek and leverage existing federal funding opportunities to invest in infrastructure in the Salton Sea region, including funding made available through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022.

Status: The Salton Sea Management Program, as part of the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA), received $70 million in IRA funds for Salton Sea restoration projects. Those dollars will be used to expand the state’s Species Conservation Habitat Project, which is creating a network of ponds and wetlands over 4,000 acres to provide fish and bird habitat and suppress dust emissions. 

Recommendation #10: Require and fund Imperial Irrigation District to conduct a water study of projected cumulative infrastructure development of geothermal power plants and DLE facilities and related water use, sources, local beneficial uses, and availability. The State or other entity should also evaluate water quality.  

Status: There are grant opportunities that could be leveraged for this study, including the CEC’s Geothermal Grant and Loan Funding program. 

Recommendation #11: The State should fund (and identify additional funding sources), and the industry should inform, the creation of curriculums, courses, and certification programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) at schools and colleges to advance critical knowledge and skills across all grade levels, with a focus on the infrastructure and communities closest to geothermal power plants and DLE facilities.

Status: There are several state, county, and local initiatives underway. The Legislature provided $80 million in funds in the 2022-2023 state budget for a STEM facility on SDSU’s Imperial Valley Campus in Brawley. This location will be the site of an industry-informed curriculum and prepare residents for Lithium Valley employment opportunities. Imperial County is working with Imperial Valley College (IVC) and industry partners to create the Lithium Industry Force Training Certification Program. This will allow students to enroll in a one-year program at IVC to receive a certification as a plant operator, chemical plant technician, or instrumentation technician. The County is conducting a workforce and economic development analysis for the region. The estimated completion date is May 2025.

Recommendation #12: Federal, state, and local government should invest in repairs, improvements to critical infrastructure and housing needed to support the success of lithium recovery, lithium processing, and lithium-dependent product manufacturing and recycling in the Salton Sea region. The focus should be on the infrastructure and communities closest to geothermal power plants and DLE facilities. Investment decisions should consider community and Tribal priorities and include opportunities for participatory budgeting that includes public process and community and Tribal involvement. 

Status: Multiple efforts are underway. The County has completed a baseline report assessing the infrastructure needs within the Lithium Valley planning area. The County has also made progress in funding bridge infrastructure improvements, a critical part of transportation infrastructure. It is also working to streamline the process to create additional affordable housing options. 

Recommendations #13: Provide capacity-building funds, such as grants, and other resources (e.g., childcare for parents to attend meetings) for Tribes and community members to engage with federal, state, and local permitting agencies. 

Status: SB 125 provided funding for community engagement and outreach to local nonprofits and community-based organizations. Imperial County distributed the funds

Recommendation #14: Establish standards for state and local permitting agencies to provide communities and Tribes with plain language written communications about geothermal power plant and DLE facility applications, the permitting processes to review the applications, and post-approval monitoring and enforcement. Information provided should also include education about the materials and processes used in DLE and lithium processing facilities, the final and intermediate products created, and any waste streams that must be managed. 

Status: The CEC has created two distinct web pages, Lithium Valley Commission and Lithium Valley Vision, to provide the public with information in plain language. Imperial County is working to develop educational materials and programming, including a rebranding and redevelopment of its website, as well as marketing and engagement materials. 

Recommendation # 15: Develop best practice guidance for CEQA lead agencies when starting communications and consultation with Tribes (e.g., making multiple attempts through different methods, such as mail, email, and telephone); providing reasonable time for Tribal governments to evaluate written materials; and recognizing the specific cultural, historical, public health, and ecological context of the Salton Sea region.

Status: The CEC is convening the state entities currently involved with or interested in supporting Lithium Valley efforts as a temporary workgroup that will explore ways to address the needs of the Salton Sea region and CA’s lithium economy, including those raised in this recommendation. The CEC is also working with the Governor’s Office of Tribal Affairs for guidance on how to address this recommendation adequately.


Erik Stokes

Media & Public Communications Office