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Legislative and Regulatory Update

Flurry of new bills in Congress
Numerous bills have been introduced in Congress that would benefit miners and other public land users now that Republicans have retained control of the House and taken control of the US Senate.
 
The Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act would require federal agencies to consider both the direct costs and those imposed on small businesses.
 
The Regulatory Accountability Act would require federal agencies to consider the impact on jobs and the economy when considering a proposed rule.
 
The Regulations from the Executive in Need in Scrutiny (REINS) Act would require federal agencies to submit major rules to Congress for their approval before they could be enacted. This bill passed in 2011 and 2013 in the House, but was not considered by the Democratic-controlled Senate at that time.
 
The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act has been introduced in the House and Senate. Environmental groups have partnered with federal agencies such as the US Fish & Wildlife to add species to the threatened or endangered lists under the Endangered Species Act without providing an opportunity for the public-at-large to participate. This bill would prohibit pre-negotiated consent decrees and settlement agreements that compel an agency to take action, and would require interested parties have the opportunity to intervene in litigation and settlement negotiations.
 
Senator Diane Feinstein re-introduced a bill to place another 1.1 million acres off-limits in the Mojave Desert, adding to the existing 7.6 million acres already set aside in the 1994 Desert Protection Act. The California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015 is Feinstein’s third attempt at locking up these lands—Congress refused to vote on her bill in past years.
 
Feinstein has publicly stated she will consider asking President Obama to use the Antiquities Act to lock up these lands if Congress fails to act.
 
President Obama has used the Antiquities Act 13 times to lock up public lands so far—most recently in the San Gabriel Mountains of California where gold prospecting was quite popular. A bill to require Congressional approval of proposed monuments has now been introduced in both the House and Senate.
 
We need to strike while the iron is hot. Please take the time to contact your legislators and politely register your opinion on these bills.
 
Gold mining bills in Washington State
Environmental group “Fish Not Gold” proposed HB 1162 in Washington State, a bill that would establish a moratorium on suction gold dredging and block in-stream motorized mining beginning in 2016. The bill would require the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to complete another exhaustive study on motorized mining, with new rules based upon the study results to begin in 2017.
 
The bill would create a committee of environmentalists, tribal members and regulatory employees appointed by the director of Washington Fish & Wildlife with little representation from miners to force new, unjustified regulations upon small-scale miners.
 
A hearing was held February 12 in front of the House Agriculture & Natural Resource Committee in Olympia. We sent out an email to our subscribers on short notice and many of them responded.
 
Several subscribers reported the hearing was packed with about 20 bill supporters and around 60 miners opposed to the bill. 
 
Shawna Hodges of Packwood Prospecting and Mining Supplies said supporters of the bill testified about the “overwhelming evidence” regarding the killing of salmon eggs and the presumed killing of fish as they are sucked into a dredge hose. This is the usual drivel espoused by environmentalists who are either unaware of the facts or they are trying to intentionally mislead the public. Current regulations require dredgers to be out of the water during times when eggs are present and there has never been a single documented case of a fish being killed in any state in the history of suction dredging.
 
Scott Keogh and Bill Thomas were just two of the miners who testified against the bill, providing legislators and the public with an overview of how a dredge works, the seasonal restrictions, and the benefits dredging provides to fish and their habitat.
 
Retired EPA biologist Joe Greene was unable to attend the hearing but provided testimony against the bill via email.
 
SB 5705, a bill to establish a mineral prospecting and mining advisory committee, is another bill pending in Washington State. SB 5705 would require the Department of Fish and Wildlife and their commission to include a representative from the mining community when mining issues are being considered.
 
Idaho suction dredging bill
Idaho is heading in a positive direction. HB 51 would require rules be based “on peer-reviewed science and a showing of actual harm greater than de minimus.”
 
Other highlights include:
  • rules, permits or orders are not to interfere to the point that they perform a taking of the placer or claim. 
  • such rules shall provide that no permit or special permit need be obtained from the department of lands or state board of land commissioners, such as joint applications for operations that move fewer than four (4) cubic yards per hour.
  • no low, arbitrary horsepower ratings on suction dredges.
  • if any agency believes a form of notice of intent is needed, it should be no more than name, address, phone number and location where the foregoing activity is to occur and that the activity is valid upon receipt by that agency of the notice by email, by phone call or by letter. 
  • streams in established mining districts that were taken out by giving them a designation, natural or recreational, shall be put back in these established mining districts under full multiple use as originally intended.
California suction dredging update
During the most recent dredge negotiations in San Bernardino Superior Court, Judge Gilbert Ochoa stated he will write temporary suction gold dredging regulations to allow dredgers in the state to obtain permits and get back in the water, though he did not give a firm deadline for when he will have them completed.
 
Meanwhile, attorneys for the State of California and environmental groups successfully petitioned the California Supreme Court to review the recent Third Court of Appeals’ decision on federal preemption. 
 
California’s Third Court of Appeals ruled back in September that a lower court erred when they did not allow suction gold dredger Brandon Rinehart to present evidence that federal law preempts state law; in other words, when federal law and state law conflict, federal law takes precedent. Rinehart was cited for suction dredging without a permit even though California has refused to issue such a permit.
 
We will certainly keep you posted with updates as this case progresses.
 
PLP fundraising drive
Our fundraising drive for Public Lands for The People continues. For those of you unfamiliar with PLP, they have been at the forefront in fighting for the rights of miners and are currently in court in San Bernardino County, California with their attorneys, battling to restore the rights of suction gold dredgers. Other states are certainly following this case and the end result will undoubtedly impact the rights of miners across the US.
 
A one-year PLP individual membership is normally $35. You can get a one-year subscription to our monthly publication for $27.95 and include $25 for a PLP membership and we’ll contribute the additional $10 for your one-year PLP membership. If you already have a subscription you can certainly choose to add another year to your subscription to take advantage of this offer. 
 
Our offer is available online—click on the “More” tab and then the “Merchandise” tab at www.icmj.com—or give us a call at (831) 479-1500 if you prefer. (Online orders for this offer need to be processed manually, so please give us extra time to complete the order.)
 
PLP is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization; donations are tax-deductible.
 
Here are the subscribers who have stepped up and taken advantage of this offer over the past month (through February 13, 2015):
  • John Callahan—Big Bear City, CA
  • Jack Broich—Paulden, AZ
  • Ronn Dahlquist—Buckley, WA
  • Duane Degner—Castro Valley, CA
  • Ronald McGaughran—Long Beach, CA
  • Stanford Lass—Las Vegas, NV
  • Brian Molloy—Philomath, OR
  • Phil Bernhardt—Brookings, OR
  • Bob Bernhardt—Grants Pass, OR
  • David Gibb—Oliverhurst, CA
  • Jeff Barber—Westwood, CA
  • Gary Heglund—Salem, OR
  • Roy Chamberlain—Duchesne, UT
  • John Matthew—Fallen Timber, PA
  • Tim Poeppel—Prescott Valley, AZ
  • Joel Dressler—Battle Mountain, NV
  • Michael Ascari—Citrus Heights, CA
© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.
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