The EPA has adopted a new definition of Water of the United States (WOTUS) that will add additional roadblocks to small and large-scale mining operations, farming, home developers and others. The action was opposed by most counties and members of Congress.
In fact, the House of Representatives passed HR 1732, a bill to prevent the EPA from expanding their powers under the Clean Water Act, in mid-May, but the Obama Administration went ahead with the rule change anyway.
While bills to repeal the latest EPA expansion are likely to be passed in both the Senate and House, it does not appear there are enough votes to override a veto from President Obama.
The EPA tried to expand their regulatory authority to non-navigable waters before, but a US Supreme Court win by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) in Rapanos v. United States in 2006 thwarted that effort.
In Rapanos, the US Supreme Court ruled that isolated waters and tributaries could not be regulated under the Clean Water Act.
“But these are the very waters that the new rule purports to regulate!” said attorney M. Reed Hopper of PLF.
PLF has vowed to return to court to stop the EPA from expanding their regulating authority.
• Sheriff withdraws Forest Service law enforcement authority
In our March 2015 issue, we reported on the harassment of several small-scale miners by Forest Service law enforcement officers in Mariposa County (Tasers and Mining Don’t Mix).
To briefly recap, several miners were sluicing for gold when they were approached by Forest Service officers who demanded identification. When one of the miners questioned their probable cause to make such a demand, one of the officers allegedly pointed a Taser at the miner.
The miners were members of the American Mining Rights Association (AMRA) and mining on valid AMRA claims.
AMRA president Shannon Poe talked with numerous miners who also complained of problems with a few Forest Service officers.
Poe compiled the complaints and attempted to resolve the issue but was unable to get a face-to-face meeting with the Forest Service supervisor. Subsequent correspondence with Forest Service patrol commander Rita Wears also failed to yield results.
Poe then took the case to Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies, which included a total of 12 documented cases of harassment to miners and other public land users.
On May 8, Sheriff Binnewies withdrew the law enforcement authority of the Forest Service in Mariposa County, and Poe expects Sheriff Mele of Tuolumne County to follow suit.
Congratulations are in order for Poe and AMRA, and a big “thank you” goes to Sheriff Binnewies. You can send a short note of thanks to Sheriff Binnewies via email at: email@example.com
January 2013 Thomas Tierney has been a long-time subscriber to ICMJ’s Prospecting and Mining Journal and has read about the many battles between miners and overzealous regulators. Then he faced his own battle.
August 2014 Representative Paul Shepherd stopped by, and Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik dove with one of the dredgers so he could see for himself that no harm was being done to fish or their habitat.