• Small miners address Washington State Senators
Greg Christensen of the Resources Coalition (www.resourcescoalition .org) reported on progress being made regarding mining regulations in Washington State.
The Washington State Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Energy and Water, invited representatives from “small-scale” mining to a “workshop” to discuss our concerns surrounding several recent developments. Three state agencies that regulate our activities were also invited.
As it turned out, the workshop on December 3, 2003, was upgraded to a full-blown formal hearing, in front of several seated members of that committee. It was also recorded on state-sponsored television, for rebroadcast and sale (http://www.tvw.org).
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, represented by Peter Birch, expanded on their role in two areas. They are the prime regulators of small-scale miners and they produce the “Gold & Fish” pamphlet, the programmatic rules. Peter explained that their department would be examining a “re-write” of this booklet and possibly the rules. He also talked about the department’s role in terminating the August 2003 Dredge Earth First rally in Oroville, Washington, and their involvement in the 2004 Northwest Miner’s Rally.
Fran McNair, representing the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, presented that agencies objectives, as relating to “recreational” mining. The Senators asked her why this agency had closed the waters to prospecting on the day of the rally in Oroville. Her response was that they had never dealt with an event like this and were stymied by how to regulate it. Later, she said the waters were re-opened upon consultation with their legal department.
Department of Ecology had little to say, except they would likely not have issue with small miners.
Six individuals represented the miners. Greg Christensen’s presentation included a 3-ring binder containing a vast array of information. It included documents showing 70% of prospecting businesses in Washington State have been lost to the current regulations, and how a healthy mining community may bring in up to $20 million yearly. Included were letters from many businesses, both in- and out-of-state, who had lost substantial business.
Greg also included in his presentation a 3-minute video showing how miners remove elemental mercury, lead and other contaminates from the waterways.
Graham Willmore spoke to the reluctance of the agencies to follow state law regarding the adoption of regulations, and of their inability to produce scientific documents that would demonstrate justification for regulations.
Jim Creegan reiterated his history of selective enforcement and how the current regulations have prevented him from making a living. He presented county resolutions supporting mining.
Bruce Beatty demonstrated how the imposition of a ban on beach placering in this state, since pre-1980, had absolutely no justification.
Bob Carstensen stated the regulations had put him out of business.
Mark Erickson said the regulations were killing prospecting clubs, as it is illegal to have more than 5 individuals at an excavation.
One Senator was open in his dislike for the agencies’ actions in closing the waterways, thus debilitating the 2003 Oroville rally. He doubted there was sufficient thought put into the reasons and stated there had better be adequate research if it happened again.
This hearing was a great step. The next step is a bill that will replace the criminal citation for prospecting without a permit with a civil fine, and the deregulation of gold panning.
Resources Coalition, along with mining clubs and organizations in Washington State, will continue the legislative process until these regulations are based on common sense.
Note: The commercial mining community in this state will have its day in front of the same committee in January. This promises to be explosive.
• Recent IBLA decisions
The Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) issued several recent mining-related decisions.
In one case (Robert W. Gately, 160 IBLA 192, November 20, 2003), Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Bruce R. Harris upheld BLM’s finding that the appellant could not occupy a mining claim without performing mining activities, stating, “use of the site is little more than recreational.”
In another case (Robert B. Hoke, et al, 160 IBLA 220, December 3, 2003), Administrative Judge R. W. Mullen upheld a BLM decision declaring two mining claims null and void because of the failure to pay annual maintenance fees. The appellant had tried to file new mining claims after the failure to pay, but the land had been designated a “wild and scenic” river.
Copies of IBLA decisions are available free of charge, up to 50 pages at one time, by calling (703) 235-3799. Additional pages are 10 cents each.
• SEIS available for comment
The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is available and ready for review for the Glamis Marigold expansion project in Humboldt County, Nevada.
A copy of the SEIS is available from: BLM, Winnemucca Field Office, 5100 East Winnemucca Blvd., Winnemucca, Nevada 89445; or phone Jeffrey D. Johnson at (775) 623-1500.
• BLM to redo CBM study
One day after environmentalists filed suit, BLM stated it would redo its environmental analysis for a major coal bed methane (CBM) project in Montana.
The CX Field and Badger Project proposal includes drilling 174 new CBM wells. BLM anticipates 65,000 CBM wells will be drilled in the Powder River Basin, which includes 51,000 wells in Wyoming and 15,000 in Montana.
• California forgets why it’s known as “The Golden State”
Prior to the arrival of Governor Schwarzenegger, former Governor Gray Davis signed another bill to further harass miners.
The bill, SB 649, places further burdens on mining operations, including increased fees, increased reporting requirements, and a royalty imposed on only gold and silver mining operations.
The bill provides for the following:
1) Prohibits operators of surface mines who are not in compliance with the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) from selling materials to local agencies.
2) Doubles the existing reporting fee to a base of $100 and a ceiling of $4,000. The reporting fee would also be subject to a Consumer Price Index (CPI) adjustment, beginning in 2005-06.
3) Increases the total amount the state may generate in mine reporting fees to $3.5 million with a CPI adjustment using a base year of 2005-06.
4) Imposes a fee of $5 per ounce of gold, and $0.10 per ounce of silver mined within the state for the purpose of funding abandoned mine clean-up.
5) Clarifies that the State Mining and Geology Board (SMGB) can assume all of the SMARA authorities of a lead agency when the SMGB must assume a lead agency’s role.
6) Creates the Abandoned Mine Reclamation and Minerals Fund Subaccount to provide funds for abandoned mine clean-up.
7) Prohibits a person who worked as a consultant for any mine in a jurisdiction from being employed by the city or county as a consultant for conducting mine inspections in that jurisdiction.
8) Contains a severability clause.
Adam Harper, manager of the California Mining Association, emphasized that the life of the average gold mine is about 10 years, and the burden of the fee will fall on a minimal number of companies and generate little revenue as other legislation and regulation in California has discouraged the development of new gold mines.
“They simply engage in a similar business activity,” said Harper. “Taken in this context, there is no connection between the miners that once created the problem and the source of revenue proposed to solve the problem today.”
A chart prepared by CMA indicates that clean-up revenue will be generated by only four major gold mines. Unless one of the four decides on expansion, the chart shows but a single mine producing fee revenue in 2005 and none in 2006.
California’s Department of Conservation estimates gold mining will cease in the state by 2010 under the current regulatory environment.
Miners are encouraged to contact Governor Schwarzenegger with constructive comments.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 445-4633