PLP Update: Regulatory Relief On The Way
May 2020 by Scott Harn
Miners and prospectors across the country may finally see some regulatory relief as a direct result of the trips we made to Washington, DC, with Public Lands for the People (PLP).
We are certainly aware that other organizations and individuals have been working on the same issues and deserve credit as well. We’ve coordinated efforts with the American Exploration and Mining Association, Waldo Mining District, Eastern Oregon Miners Association, Josephine County (Oregon), Siskiyou County (California) and numerous clubs, associations, businesses, mining districts and individual miners. (Here is a letter of support that lists many of the groups supporting this effort.)
It’s taken us over four years of trips to DC and countless hours via phone and email to cultivate relationships with staff at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Forest Service (USFS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Dept. of Interior, the US Dept. of Agriculture, members of Congress, and current members of the Trump administration. While we cannot disclose the names of those in DC who have been helping in this regulatory relief effort, we can tell you about some of the progress being made.
In the next month or so, we expect a notice will be published in the Federal Register that will deal with BLM mining regulations related to federal preemption on mining claims and federal lands. We will provide a summary of the proposed changes in the Journal and on our website at www.icmj.com. The notice will address some of the issues miners have with states creating roadblocks to miners and prospectors.
Toward the end of this summer, we expect another Federal Register notice will be published that deals with Forest Service mining regulations. The goal of the proposed changes will be to bring inconsistent and overbearing USFS regulations more in line with BLM regulations.
It will be extremely important for you to submit polite, constructive comments after these proposed changes are published in the Federal Register. We will certainly let you know how to submit comments here in the Journal and on our website, and you’ll be able to view the comments we submit along with those from PLP.
Regarding suction gold dredging, many of us have been extremely frustrated by states like California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho blocking or severely restricting this mining method that has a proven track record of cleaning up the environment while efficiently recovering gold, other precious metals, and even rare earth minerals.
There are three main points of contention: 1) States are blocking or overly restricting suction gold dredging; 2) The EPA—and states operating their own regulatory programs under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the EPA—continue to require a permit for suction gold dredging even though the Clean Water Act clearly states there must be the “addition” of a pollutant in order to trigger the permit requirement; and 3) the federal government needs to assert federal preemption so miners can utilize a suction gold dredge on a federal mining claim.
It took quite a while for us to develop the right connections, but we have finally sidestepped the career politicians embedded in the federal government and we are dealing directly with an advisor to President Trump on this issue. Talks have just begun, but we are confident we can get these issues resolved so suction dredge miners can get back to work.
I want to stress that states like California are not friendly to suction gold dredgers, and you should not expect any reasonable regulations to come from the California State Water Resources Control Board. California has delayed the implementation of a permitting scheme for years, and we expect the Board will continue to make most gold-bearing streams and rivers off-limits, include exorbitant fees and extreme reporting requirements, and restrict working times enough to make the endeavor unprofitable for all miners.
Suction gold dredgers who apply for the Section 402 EPA permit are identifying themselves as polluters just by applying for the permit and should also be keenly aware of the citizen’s suit provision of the Clean Water Act. The Idaho Conservation League used this provision to sue several suction gold dredgers in Idaho; some dredged without the EPA permit while others went beyond the restrictions laid out in their permits.
The only way to restore suction gold dredging, in our opinion, is to use federal preemption and change the regulatory scheme at the federal level. PLP plans to release a detailed path and timeline in the next 30 days for the restoration of legal suction dredging. We will continue to keep you apprised of new developments as we continue to work with the Trump administration on all of these issues.
Priorities will include meeting with the EPA regarding suction gold dredging permitting and with the Forest Service regarding revisions to CFR 228A regulations related to mining and access on public lands.
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.
Within these districts, some of the roads and trails have been reopened for access, critical habitat designations have been scaled back, and a few Mining Districts were completely removed from proposed withdrawals.
If this authority over mining was not included in the transfer, then the US Forest Service would not have jurisdiction.
…what I’d like to focus on in this update is the assistance they provided to a suction gold dredger in Idaho being harassed by an environmental group.
The changes we are seeking will most definitely help prospectors, small operations and dredgers. If you haven’t yet read our proposals, you’ll find a link to it at the end of the online version of this article.
We have found strong support from legislators in both the House and Senate for several proposed bills that will provide Mining Districts with a greater role in the decisions that affect access to mining claims, oversight and regulations.
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