AMRA's Shannon Poe sued by Idaho Conservation League
August 16, 2018
by Scott Harn, Editor/Publisher
ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal
The Idaho Conservation League announced they filed suit in federal court last week against Shannon Poe, president of the American Mining Rights Association, "a California miner with a history of repeated disregard for clean water laws. The suit alleges multiple violations of the Clean Water Act. The organization put Poe on notice, in 2016, 2017 and 2018, of its intent to hold him accountable if he continued suction dredge mining in the South Fork Clearwater River without appropriate permits."
Poe was suction gold dredging in Idaho. He had obtained a dredging permit from the State of Idaho but decided against filing a Plan of Operation or obtaining a federal National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the federal government as requested by the US Forest Service and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In July 2016, the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests released an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the South Fork Clearwater River. Many miners were justifiably upset when the EA included a hard cap of 15 dredges allowed on the river at one time without a reasonable justification. Also in dispute was whether or not a federal agency could require a NPDES permit, which is triggered by the Clean Water Act when there is the addition of a pollutant. As anyone who has operated a suction dredge knows, there is no addition of a pollutant when operating a suction dredge; dredged material is processed and returned, with only mercury, lead, gold and any other heavy metals captured during the process. The EA also claimed that some of the restrictions were necessary to protect threatened or endangered species.
There is a well-defined path to follow when contesting an Environmental Assessment that includes an appeal process. Rules for the appeal are set forth in the Administrative Review Act. Once that remedy is exhausted, a miner or other public land user can seek to change the Environmental Assessment in court.
On June 1, 2018, the EPA reissued its NPDES general permit for suction dredgers in Idaho, but the federal agency still required miners to fill out the necessary paperwork to obtain the permit.
The citizen lawsuit provision in the Clean Water Act allows lawsuits against individuals for violating the CWA and there is a similar provision for the Endangered Species Act.
The Idaho Conservation League stated they will be seeking penalties and the recovery of attorney fees in the case against Shannon Poe. In addition, Poe and two other AMRA members were cited by the US Forest Service for operating without an approved Plan of Operation.
We agree that there is no addition of a pollutant when operating a suction dredge. We believe it might be possible for Poe and the others to win this case if they exhausted the administrative appeals process before dredging without the requested Plan of Operation or federal NPDES permit; if they did not, they may be in for a rough ride.
I'll have the opportunity to talk with Shannon Poe this weekend at the Gold and Treasure Show in Sonora, California, and dig into this case a little further. I'll be expanding on this topic in our September 2018 issue.
I've been to Washington, DC, three times in the last 15 months trying to get issues like this one resolved. Clark Pearson (Public Lands for the People) and I formally asked for clarification on this exact issue during a meeting with a deputy director at the EPA. We will have a follow-up meeting with him in DC later this year, but it likely won't be until November or December.