Legislative and Regulatory Update
April 2012 by Scott Harn• CA Fish & Game Final SEIR
The California Department of Fish & Game issued their Final Subsequent Environmental Impact Report on suction gold dredging on March 7. The agency had released the draft SEIR for public comments on February 17, and allowed less than three weeks for the comment process. Fish & Game decided to ignore the numerous requests for an extended comment period and went ahead with publishing the regulations.
Don’t expect to see many changes between the draft and the final document—we had difficulty finding any. The unwarranted restrictions are numerous and without merit. If you want to see how ridiculous the regulations are, you can view them on the Fish & Game website at: www.dfg.ca.gov/suctiondredge/
So, what is the next step?
It’s going to take a court ruling to reinstate the rights of dredgers at this juncture. Public Lands for the People has an ongoing lawsuit against Fish & Game in San Bernardino Superior Court. PLP is seeking an injunction in that case to reinstate the previous regulations and to get suction gold dredgers back in the water as soon as possible. Fish & Game sought to have the case consolidated with another case in Alameda County where the judge previously ruled in their favor. The San Bernardino judge refused that request. The next hearing is scheduled for April 30.
PLP has additional lawsuits in the works to address violations of law and due process. They have thirty days to file—the clock starts ticking when the new regulations are published by the State.
Just because the Final SEIR has been completed does not mean you can apply for a dredging permit. (The restrictions placed in the new regulations would likely make it uneconomical for you anyway.) Assembly Bill 120 was passed by the legislature on July 26, 2011. The bill extends the dredging moratorium until 2016 unless all significant impacts can be fully mitigated. Since this is impossible, the moratorium will be in place through 2016 unless a court rules otherwise. AB 120 also requires that a new fee structure be put in place, which the legislature is in no hurry to authorize.
We have to win in court, and there is a very decent chance we can do that with your support. ICMJ’s Prospecting and Mining Journal continues to financially support PLP—we sent off another $3,000 in January 2012 to help pay attorney fees. We realize it may be a difficult time financially for some of our readers, but if we don’t chip in now to win this we will be out of the water permanently. Donations to PLP are tax deductible—you can find their information on page 4.
While this process drags on, the State Regional Water Quality Control Board continues to promulgate regulations to attempt to keep you out of the water. The Board has been designating waterways as “impaired” so they can implement Total Maximum Daily Load limits and try to force you to get a wastewater discharge permit. The faster we can get this overturned by a court, the better off we’ll be.
• Positive news from California?
There is one positive development in California we would like to mention: a few county sheriffs are getting fed up with the heavy-handed tactics of Fish & Game, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. During a February 28 meeting, these sheriffs banded together in an effort to develop a joint policy to restore private property rights in Northern California. This is noteworthy because sheriffs have the authority to prevent other agencies from conducting enforcement activities in their jurisdiction without their permission.
“Our county could be destroyed if we don’t take the time to stand up and fight for it,” said Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey.
One of the popular topics was Travel Management Plans put forth by the Forest Service that restrict access to private property.
One of our readers stated that at least one sheriff at this meeting stated he would allow suction dredging in his jurisdiction and no permit is needed. We’re attempting to verify this statement at press time and will have more information for you next issue. In addition, we’re hoping to get a representative of the group to speak at our 2012 Gold Prospecting & Mining Summit in Placerville on May 12-13.
The sheriffs present at the meeting included Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood, Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey, Trinity County Sheriff Bruce Haney and Modoc County Sheriff Mike Poindexter.
The event was sponsored by “Support Rural America.” Their next forum is scheduled for Saturday, April 21, from 2pm to 7pm, at the Alturas Casino in Alturas, and will be hosted by Modoc County Sheriff Mike Poindexter. More information is available at www.supportruralamerica.com
• Still no results in Wisconsin
A bill to streamline the permitting process in Wisconsin is still in limbo, and a company that was poised to develop a large iron mine in that state has said they are pulling out.
Gogebic Taconite issued a statement that they are putting plans on hold for a mine that would create hundreds of jobs and provide a huge boost to the economy in northwestern Wisconsin due to the uncertainty of the permitting process.
Republicans hold a 17-16 majority in the Wisconsin Senate and were poised to pass a bill that would require a permit decision within a year of receiving an application and would eliminate case hearings often used by environmental groups to continuously delay a project. But Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican, has vowed to vote against the bill.
• Give us back our lands
Arizona joined Utah in an effort to force the federal government to hand over control of public lands in their state. Both states are demanding control of federal lands by 2014.
Arizona Republican Al Melvin sponsored a bill that would require the land transfer or tax the federal government if it refused to do so. Melvin stated that excessive federal regulations are killing timber and mining.
Around 40% of Arizona is controlled by the federal government, and another 30% is controlled by tribes. The bill passed the Arizona Senate on a vote of 19-9.
In Utah, a similar bill passed through both the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by Governor Gary Herbert shortly. Nearly 50% of Utah is controlled by various federal government agencies.
I hope this case inspires some of you. It shows that miners can and do succeed when they are persistent and well-prepared, even when representing themselves against state and federal attorneys in a court of law.
We have an opportunity to make significant and substantial changes to provide relief for small miners with the Trump Administration and the current makeup of Congress. We realize the time to act is now, but we need your help.
One of the most asinine proposals in the SEIR is to require miners to state when and where they will be dredging. This information would be accessible to the public, which would make them prime candidates for getting their homes burglarized while they are out mining.
Recently, a left-leaning Arizona federal judge, James Soto, who is an Obama appointee, shut down a proposed copper mining project for the flimsiest of reasons. He basically disregarded and rewrote federal mining law.
• California suction dredging regulations
• Draft Coho recovery plan for Southern Oregon, Northern California
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