July 2020 by Scott Harn
States continue to block miners from mining their federal mining claims across the West by requiring a Section 402 Clean Water Act permit. The Clean Water Act clearly states the “addition” of a pollutant is the trigger, but these states continue to ignore the law and they’ve been backed by liberal courts like the Oregon Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
We were looking forward to the US Supreme Court finally weighing in on this Section 402 permit issue in Eastern Oregon Mining Association v. Oregon Department of Environmental Quality after the miners appealed a decision from the Oregon Supreme Court. But the US Supreme Court accepts less than 3% of the cases it receives for review and, unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them. So now what? Where do we go from here?
We here at the Mining Journal, along with Public Lands for the People, have been working with a few folks in Washington, DC, on this issue for the past year. Last year, Donald Smith, a miner in Idaho, was dealing with the same permit issue, and we gave him a hand with writing a petition for rulemaking addressed to the EPA. (Section 402 permitting is handled by many of the Western States under a memorandum of understanding with each state.)
We’ve built up some contacts in DC during our trips there over the past four years, and we believe we finally have the correct contacts who can get this petition reviewed by the proper people. We’ve been in touch with them over the past two weeks and we were hoping to have further news to report on this process, but we didn’t get any confirmation by press time. We are asking for the EPA to provide clarification to federal and state agencies that a Section 402 permit is not required for suction gold dredging because there is no addition of a pollutant. We will certainly keep your posted.
On another note, we are also talking with Trump administration officials about providing relief in many other areas, and what is the best and quickest route to provide that relief.
As all of you know, the House is currently controlled by Democrats while Republicans control the Senate. Many members of Congress are too busy fighting with each other and worrying about re-election to get anything significant accomplished so we are in active discussions about a more efficient alternative with some of our DC contacts.
I can’t give any specific details on this effort at this time, but will certainly let our readers know when that opportunity arises.
Those miners present immediately recognized the benefits of becoming members of MMAC and joined up on the spot. I spent some time answering a few questions, and then the miners took over.
PLP cannot understate the importance of this legal decision in our present battles with the political powers of the California swamp.
PLP northern director Clark Pearson stated, “Thanks to the U.S. v. Hicks case, the courts have acknowledged that claimholders are owners of land within the National Forest who are exempt.”
Now they have come up with a second guide (to be released on May 1) that they believe will allow dredgers in California to resume working.
We definitely got their undivided attention with our presentations. As a direct result of our presentations, the Desert Advisory Council recommended a Memorandum of Understanding be put together between the council and the Rand Mining District. This MOU was recently completed.
We’ve built up some contacts in DC during our trips there over the past four years, and we believe we finally have the correct contacts who can get this petition reviewed by the proper people.
In the meantime, we will continue our multi-pronged approach to seek regulatory relief at the federal level while supporting those court cases that are built on a strong legal foundation.
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