Legislative and Regulatory Update
December 2007 by Scott Harn
• California suction dredging
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) finally announced they are gathering information in preparation for updating suction dredge mining regulations. The last Environmental Impact Report on suction dredging was completed in 1994.
In December 2006, DFG was ordered by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Bonnie Sabraw in Karuk Tribe v. DFG to conduct a new Environmental Impact Study prior to making changes to current regulations. They were given 18 months to complete the task.
In this particular court case, the Karuk Tribe, backed by several environmental organizations, found that DFG was sympathetic to the Tribe’s goal of closing off several California rivers to dredging. DFG attempted to eliminate dredging in those waterways, but several mining organizations learned of the backroom deal and intervened.
So the Karuks tried a different tactic. They authored a bill that would accomplish the same goal and got Assemblywoman Lois Wolk to introduce the legislation. The bill, AB 1032, would have expanded restrictions to numerous waterways throughout the state and would have required the agency be able to show that no harm would come to various species before a suction dredge permit could be issued.
Despite intense efforts by miners and others, the bill passed. Miners also sent countless letters to Governor Schwarzenegger, outlining the mitigation measures already in place and extolling the benefits of suction dredging. Governor Schwarzenegger agreed that current restrictions are satisfactory and he vetoed the bill.
It appears the DFG was waiting for the outcome of AB 1032, hoping that the court-ordered EIR update would somehow go away if the bill passed. Eight months went by without any funds being allocated for the updated EIR.
Finally, on October 19, 2007, DFG published a notice seeking comments to update suction dredging regulations.
The agency has asked for comments on the following topics:
- Whether suction dredge mining results in adverse impacts to the environment;
- Whether suction dredge mining under the Department’s current regulations governing such activities results in deleterious effects to fish;
- Whether there are changed circumstances or new information available since 1994 regarding suction dredge mining and the environment generally; and
- Whether changed circumstances or new information available since 1994 indicates suction dredge mining under the Department’s existing regulations is resulting in new significant or substantially more severe environmental impacts than previously considered by the Department.
It’s interesting to note that all of their questions are posed with a negative slant. The agency could just as easily have asked whether suction dredge mining results in positive impacts to the environment.
The benefits are numerous. Suction dredging loosens compacted gravels for spawning beds, creates dissolved oxygen, removes mercury and other contaminates, creates cooler waters, and the dredgers themselves provide a boost to local economies. Dredgers are already subject to nozzle size and seasonal restrictions to mitigate possible adverse impacts to fish and the environment.
All comments or other information should be submitted in writing by December 18, 2007.
Comments submitted via regular mail should be sent to:
California Dept. of Fish and Game
Attn: Suction Dredge Mining Program
1416 Ninth Street, 12th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814
Comments can also be submitted via email to: SuctionDredgeMining@dfg.ca.gov
• HR 2262
Congressman Nick Rahall’s Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 passed the House of Representatives on November 1.
Though the bill passed the House, it does not appear to have the same support in the Senate.
The version passed would place a 4% net royalty on existing mines and an 8% net royalty on new mines. Public lands could be placed off-limits to mining if another use is preferred by a state, government agency or tribe, permanently eliminate patenting, and place a host of new environmental restrictions on miners.
The Bush administration has already threatened to veto the bill, but there is only a year left on President Bush’s term. If the Senate does not act on the bill in 2008, we most certainly will see it come up again in 2009.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has publicly stated he cannot support the House version of the bill but he believes “… the opportunity still exists for common sense reform. It is in no one’s interest to leave the regulation of this important industry to the whims of each passing Administration, as is the case today.”
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