Back in 'The Swamp' -- Meetings with MSHA, EPA, USFS seeking relief for small miners
June 8, 2018
by Scott Harn
ICMJs Prospecting and Mining Journal
The end of another long day. After going over our wish list (Small Miner Amendments to S 145), we pared down the list to three critical items we would like to have addressed for immediate relief. Several members of the Senate felt the enitre list was too big of a bite to take all at one time.
We are in a holding pattern, waiting for a few members of the Senate to decide on sponsorship. Again, we are still optimistic that a portion of our list we be addressed, and might know possibly as soon as next week. We will certainly keep you posted as this progress continues.
I want to call out a few people who were extremely helpful during this week, and one, in particular, who was not.
Senator Dan Sullivan's (R-AK) staff, along with Senator Tim Scott's (R-SC) staff provided us with some valuable tips to help us along in this process.
Congressman Gosar's (R-AZ) staff on the House side has been instrumental in providing guidance and stated they will continue to assist us as needed.
The staff of Senator James Infofe (R-OK) was very helpful. Despite not having a state where mining is a dominate force, the staff was instrumental in providing guidance and direction.
The staff of Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) has continued to shine. They seem to be well-versed on many aspects of mining law and public land use, and ask very appropriate questions as we work through these issues. We have met with them during past trips to DC, and they continue to support our efforts.
I would like to also call out the efforts and support from a prominent official we met with at the US Forest Service, but I can't name him at this time. He has offered to continue working with us over the coming months (and years) to provide relief from over-regulation by the Forest Service. We'll be working on our game plan soon.
And last, but not least, I have to say we have been very disappointed with Senator Dean Heller (R-NV). While he has been helpful for large mining concerns, he continues to ignore small mine operators. I attempted to get an appointment for us with Senator Heller a week before we came out and said the purpose of the meeting was to find out what he has been "doing on behalf of small miners." I didn't get any response, then tried again this past Monday. Two days later, on Wednesday, a staff member said she might be able to arrange a meeting, then she withdrew that offer on Thursday and stated the Senator was unavailable.
As I mentioned above, we are still waiting for a few things to happen. We will continue to stay in touch with those influential Senators who have offered assistance and are working on our behalf. I will certainly provide an update as soon as I can.
Thursday 6/7/2018 (evening) update
It's 11:25 pm here in DC. It was a very long day. Clark Pearson is in the adjacent bed, snoring.
Clark and I had a great meeting with a higher-up official at the US Forest Service this morning and I delivered the complaints and suggestions that many of you supplied -- 412 in total. Clark had additional complaints and they were all presented.
The USFS official was extremely cordial and helpful, and he pledged to work with us to address many of the issues. We have a basic plan in place, but it will take a little work and time on our part, and his, to make some effective changes.
The remainder of the day was spent in meetings with numerous Senators. We worked through lunch and eventually took a short break in the afternoon. Meetings lasted beyond 5pm, then we continued working back at our hotel during the evening hours by sending over some of the additional documents they requested.
I'm sorry I cannot get into many details at the moment. We are waiting to see what happens tomorrow. We have meetings with many of the same Senators who asked us to remain available for questions while we work through this process, and we are praying it continues in a positive direction. We are cautiously optimistic we could have some regulatory relief for small-scale miners within the next few days. If not, we'll be back. Actually, even if we are successful, we will be back to work on the next step because we know we won't get everything we are asking for.
Clark and I are supposed to head back home on Saturday. There's a chance they may need additional time to meet on Monday. If so, Clark may be able to extend his stay but I'll have to head back home to work on the next issue of the Mining Journal.
I will provide another report tomorrow night, but I need to get some sleep.
Thursday 6/7/2018 update
I don't have much time to report back on the activities from our previous day. We checked in with numerous Senators to gauge support for our proposed amendments, and we'll be spending most of today in callback meetings with those who asked us to return for more questions and answers. We'll be revisiting one particular Senator who has three staff members interested in supporting our efforts, so we anticipate that will be one of our longer meetings today.
We'll start off this morning with one of the higher-up Trump administration appointees at the US Forest Service, where we will present a summary of the 412 complaints about USFS that I received from our readers and provide him with some of the specific complaint letters and suggested fixes received from our readers. (FYI: This official asked for our help after an initial meeting back in March.)
After that we will move on to meetings with individual Senators and their staffs.
Someone I want to call out and compliment from our meetings yesterday is Congressman Gosar (R-AZ) and his staff. He and his staff are some of the most knowledgable and helpful on issues related to minerals and mining and have worked with us on many of our visits. They like our proposed amendments and have offered to assist us however possible. We had a strategy meeting that lasted much longer than anticipated and we feel blessed to have their assistance.
Wednesday, 6/6/2018 update
We were out of gas after a long day yesterday.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) meeting on Tuesday was a good start to opening the dialogue between small-scale miners and the agency. We met with the top three officials, including the acting director.
A couple of major issues were discussed. First and foremost was the way self-employed miners and small, family operations are treated. Currently, these small operators are treated no differently than large-scale miners like Newmont or Barrick. The agency contends their hands are tied. Unlike the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which excludes sole operators and family operations, MSHA is mandated to treat any and all mining operations equally by the Mines Act. The director suggested the Mines Act needs to be changed so small operators can be excluded. He stated that according to MSHA rules, if a mine is producing and selling a product, that miner falls under MSHA jurisdiction. There have been no changes to the Mines Act since 2006.
The second major issue involved Search and Rescue (SARs) teams. These are regional teams, and the closest one available for many operators in northern California is just across the border in Nevada. Up until about 2012, an underground miner could list SARS on his MSHA compliance forms, but for some, unknown reason, the northern California MSHA office stopped accepting regional SARS teams as fulfilling their requirement.
The director stated they would dig into the SARS issue and get back to us within a week or two. MSHA wants to continue to have open discussions about what can be done to improve the relationship between small operators and the agency, and again stressed that changes to the Mines Act need to be introduced in Congress to alleviate the pressure on small operators.
We spent the rest of Tuesday meeting with legislative directors of Senators who can help us get at least a few items from our proposed "Small Miner Amendments" pushed through in this legislative cycle. We received callbacks from several who wanted to meet again and have us educate additional members of their staff. A possible door has been opened to inserting a few items from our wish list into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). I can't go into more detail about it at this time.
It's Wednesday morning here now, and we have to head back to "The Swamp" as soon as we get a few more copies of our proposals printed up. I'll provide another update this evening.
Tuesday, 6/5/2018 update
Well here we go again...
I arrived back in Washington, DC, yesterday along with Clark Pearson of Public Lands for the People for a series of meetings with top administration officials. This is our third week-long trip this year.
This time we came armed with letters of support and proposed solutions from our readers across the country. Our first meetings will be with the acting secretary and deputy secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).
This is the cover letter we are presenting:
To: Mine Safety and Health Administration
201 12th St South, Ste 401
Arlington, VA 22202-5450
Thank you for this opportunity to address some of the major issues facing small miners in America as they relate to MSHA.
ICMJ’s Prospecting and Mining Journal has a readership of 31,000, which includes every state and 21 countries. We focus on small, independent miners, and our primary coverage relates to gold and other precious metals. We have been around a long time—in continuous publication since 1931. I’ve been the owner/editor for the past 18-plus years, and I’m the third generation in my family to run this publication.
We receive plenty of complaints from small miners across the United States and we encourage solutions from our readers in a cooperative, non-confrontational manner toward federal agencies and employees.
As I’m sure you are aware, President Trump issued Executive Order 13777 on February 24, 2017, titled “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” The President declared, “It is the policy of the United States to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people.”
President Trump directed agencies, including MSHA, to review existing regulations, and to “seek input and other assistance…from entities significantly affected by federal regulations, including state, local, and tribal governments, small businesses, consumers, non-governmental organizations, and trade associations.”
Clark Pearson of Public Lands for the People and I have spoken with hundreds of miners regarding major issues impacting small miners across the United States in their dealings with MSHA. In addition, I solicited comments from our readers regarding regulatory reform that could help “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people.”
100% of the commenters stated that MSHA is wholly inappropriate for self-employed operators or those who employ only family members. OSHA statutes correctly made a distinction between large operators and self-employed operators.
MSHA should immediately exclude small operators from MSHA requirements to make the agency consistent with OSHA and comply with Executive Order 13777.
We don’t want to overwhelm you so we’re providing you with just a few of the letters and notes we’ve received. These complaint letters highlight some of the main issues facing small-scale miners and prospectors in America today in regards to MSHA.
There are several actions you can take immediately that will help the agency comply with Executive Order 13777, “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens” on small miners across America, help to create American jobs and save millions of taxpayer dollars at the same time. The first such action should be to exempt small mine operators from MSHA.
ICMJs Prospecting and Mining Journal
PO Box 2260
Aptos, CA 95001
I will continue to provide updates to our readers throughout the week as time permits.