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Legislative and Regulatory Update

November 2009 by Scott

• Suction dredging update for California
The federal lawsuit filed by Public Lands for the People (PLP) to lift the ban on suction gold dredging in California is in the hands of Judge Morrison England in US District Court in Sacramento.

The State of California obtained an extension from the court for filing their response. State officials now have until November 24 to file their response. PLP’s goal remains to obtain an injunction against the State of California prior to the start of the next dredging season.

In the meantime, the California Department of Fish & Game has released a review of available studies in preparation of the draft EIR for new suction dredging regulations. The 122-page document appears to contain very little new information from the EIR completed in 1994.

Subscriber Steve Tyler let us know that Eldorado County passed Resolution No. 223-2009 in support of suction dredge mining on October 6, and requested the State of California rescind or amend SB 670. The resolution was well written and included references to scientific studies, removal of mercury from waterways, the benefits to salmon habitat from suction dredging, and a reference to the economic analysis we helped complete at Governor Schwarzenegger’s request. (You can find it on our website or in the September 2009 issue.) The resolution stated, “WHEREAS, according to the September 2009, ICMJ’s Prospecting and Mining Journal, suction dredge mining is a verifiable revenue generating industry in California of greater than $65 million dollars, a portion of which is generated in El Dorado County…”

There are many county governments and businesses in California that are hurting due to the lost revenue generated from suction gold dredgers. I would encourage you to send a copy of the El Dorado County resolution to your county board of supervisors and encourage them to pass their own resolution in support of suction dredging.

The EIR document mentioned above, the economic report, and county resolution are available in the “Resources” section of our website under “Suction Dredging Information.”

• The anti-mining Congress
Plenty of bills have been introduced in Congress that could have a negative impact on prospecting and mining.

Hard Rock Mining. HR 699 & S 796 are related to hard rock mining. The bills were introduced by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia) and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico).

HR 699 is the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009. Along with its companion bill in the Senate, S 796, the bill would place such severe restrictions on mining in the United States that most mining would grind to a halt. We profiled HR 699 in our March 2009 issue, and the article is available for free on our website if you didn’t get a chance to read it. The article title is “Rahall Proposes Bill to End All Mining in the U.S.”

S 140 was introduced by Senator Feinstein (D-California). Its major provisions include an 8% royalty for locatable minerals, a reclamation fee of 0.3% of gross income each calendar year, and fees for the transfer of any unpatented mining claim, mill, or tunnel site.

HR 3201 was introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado) in response to S 140 and his bill is preferred by industry. The bill would establish a net royalty of 2%, create the Office of Economic Geology under the US Geological Survey, and require a national summit on uranium to assess the nation’s uranium resources with recommendations to ensure access for development.

Wilderness & Lands. HR 980 would place 24 million acres in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Oregon off-limits to mining. The bill was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York).

HR 39, introduced by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), and S 503, introduced by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), would designate 1.4 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.

HR 1925 and S 799 would place 9 million acres off-limits to development in southern Utah. The bills were introduced by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-New York) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).

HR 644 was introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona). The bill would permanently withdraw one million acres from mining near Grand Canyon National Park.

Endangered Species Act. HJ Res (House Joint Resolution) 18 was introduced by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia). A resolution becomes law if passed by both the House and Senate and is signed by the President. The resolution would repeal a Bush regulation that allowed federal agencies to avoid time consuming and costly consultations under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act if it didn’t appear to be warranted.

Roadless Areas. HR 3692 and S 1738 were introduced October 1. The legislation would make the 2001 Clinton-era Roadless Rule permanent, barring almost all road construction on 58 million acres of national forests.

The bills were introduced by Rep. Jay Inslee and Senator Maria Cantwell, both Democrats from Washington State.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack previously stated his agency will write a new rule on roadless areas if the 2001 Roadless Rule is not settled soon by the courts. The Roadless Rule is still making its way through the courts, with conflicting opinions issued by US District Courts in the Ninth and Tenth Circuits.

There are many more bills addressing energy, oil and gas.

The good news is that Congress is so preoccupied with health care reform and other matters that little or no action has occurred on these bills. It’s possible that some of these will remain stagnant until the 2010 elections, when a balance of power is expected to be restored based on the falling approval ratings for the Obama Administration and the current Congress.

The bad news is that Congress may finish up with health care and other pressing issues soon, allowing legislators plenty of time to screw up another important sector of America’s economy before many of them are voted out of office.

© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.