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California Governor Brown vetoes budget bill; miners get reprieve from proposed 5-yr moratorium on suction dredging

June 16, 2011

Excerpt from the budget bill:
AB 120, as amended, Committee on Budget. Public Resources.
  (12) Existing law designates the issuance by the Department of Fish and Game of permits to operate vacuum or suction dredge equipment to be a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and suspends the issuance of permits, and mining pursuant to a permit, until the department has completed an environmental impact report for the project as ordered by the court in a specified court action.
  Existing law prohibits the use of any vacuum or suction dredge equipment in any river, stream, or lake, for instream mining purposes, until the Director of Fish and Game certifies to the Secretary of State that (a) the department has completed the environmental review of its existing vacuum or suction dredge equipment regulations as ordered by the court, (b) the department has transmitted for filing with the Secretary of State a certified copy of new regulations, as necessary, and (c) the new regulations are operative.
  This bill would modify that moratorium to prohibit the use of vacuum or suction dredge equipment until June 30, 2016, or until the director’s certification to the secretary as described above, whichever is earlier.
The bill would additionally require the director to certify that the new regulations fully mitigate all identified significant environmental impacts and that a fee structure is in place that will fully cover all costs to the department related to the administration of the program.
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SEC. 6. Section 5653.1 of the Fish and Game Code is amended to read:
  5653.1. (a) The issuance of permits to operate vacuum or suction dredge equipment is a project pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code) and permits may only be issued, and vacuum or suction dredge mining may only occur as authorized by any existing permit, if the department has caused to be prepared, and certified the completion of, an environmental impact report for the project pursuant to the court order and consent judgment entered in the case of Karuk Tribe of California et al. v. California Department of Fish and Game et al., Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG 05211597.
    (b) Notwithstanding Section 5653, the use of any vacuum or suction dredge equipment in any river, stream, or lake of this state is prohibited until June 30, 2016, or until the director certifies to the Secretary of State that all of the following have occurred, whichever is earlier:
      (1) The department has completed the environmental review of its existing suction dredge mining regulations, as ordered by the court in the case of Karuk Tribe of California et al. v. California Department of Fish and Game et al., Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG 05211597.
      (2) The department has transmitted for filing with the Secretary of State pursuant to Section 11343 of the Government Code, a certified copy of new regulations adopted, as necessary, pursuant to Chapter 3.5 (commencing with Section 11340) of Part 1 of Division 3 of Title 2 of the Government Code.
      (3) The new regulations described in paragraph (2) are operative.
      (4) The new regulations described in paragraph (2) fully mitigate all identified significant environmental impacts.
      (5) A fee structure is in place that will fully cover all costs to the department related to the administration of the program.
    (c) The Legislature finds and declares that this section, as added during the 2009–10 Regular Session, applies solely to vacuum and suction dredging activities conducted for instream mining purposes.
This section does not expand or provide new authority for the department to close or regulate suction dredging conducted for regular maintenance of energy or water supply management infrastructure, flood control, or navigational purposes governed by other state or federal law.
    (d) This section does not prohibit or restrict nonmotorized recreational mining activities, including panning for gold.Environmental Impact Report on suction gold dredging, which is scheduled for completion in September 2011.
Much of the credit for California’s rise to prominence belongs to gold miners, but just a century and a half later the legislators have completely trashed that legacy..

In 2010, Proposition 25 was passed by the voters, which did away the requirement of a two-thirds majority to pass a spending bill. Democrats have held a majority in the State Senate and Assembly for years, but Republicans were able to hold them “in check” until 2010 because of the two-thirds requirement. Now, a simple majority is all that is needed to pass a spending bill.

When the Supplemental Environmental Impact Report on suction dredging was ordered by  Alameda County Superior Court Judge Roesch back in 2009, Governor Jerry Brown was the Attorney General. During that court hearing, then Attorney General Brown’s office told the court, “In no uncertain terms, General Fund monies have not been expended on suction dredge permitting.”

Fast forward to 2011: California is out of money and looking for ways to cut costs. The California Tribal Business Alliance and Friends of the River provided outdated numbers to a consultant regarding the cost to administer the Department of Fish & Game’s suction dredging program. These numbers incorrectly showed the program was operating at a loss. Democrats inserted language into the budget bill calling for a five-year moratorium on the suction dredging program under the guise of saving money while the SEIR study would continue.

The budget bill passed the state Senate despite passionate objections by Republican Senators Ted Gaines and Doug LaMalfa.

On June 15, the budget bill was also passed by the Assembly with a party-line vote of 52-26.

Rachel and Mike Dunn, owners of the Gold Pan California prospecting store in Concord, California, met with several legislators in Sacramento and coordinated efforts with miners to put pressure on legislators to no avail. They also succeeded in getting numerous articles published with major news outlets exposing the bogus budget numbers and the highlighting the plight of suction dredge miners.
Rachel sent out the following notice on June 14:
“We lost the vote today in Sacramento, 52-26, straight down party lines. The Governor still has to sign it, which may or may not happen today.

“As for the miners, this isn’t the end, it is the very beginning of our fight.

“My full immersion in Sacramento politics for the last month has helped me understand how our anti-mining foes operate, and this will help us plan our response back to the state.

“Thank you all for helping out and pulling together. The most positive thing that has come from this attack on the miners, is that the miners now have a better sense of how TRULY we are under attack, right here in our own back yards.”

In a surprising development, Governor Brown vetoed the budget bill on June 16. Brown stated he did not believe it was a "balanced solution"; he did not specifically mention anything about the suction gold dredging program.

In related news, the California State Water Resources Control Board is attempting to put further restrictions on waterways throughout California with two separate proposals.

The first deals with the regulation of non-point source discharges on National Forest lands. The Board was to further restrict what activities are allowed in waterways, including mining.

Visit www.swrcb.ca.gov/water_issues/programs/nps/wqmp_forests.shtml on the Internet or call Gaylon Lee at (916) 341-5478 to obtain a copy of the proposal. Comments are due by noon on July 25, 2011. Comment instructions are contained within the document.

The second proposal concerns proposed changes to National Pollution Discharge Elimination System fees.  It appears they are attempting to apply these fees to miners working in waterways:

More information is available on the Internet at www.waterboards.ca.gov/resources/fees/

You can also receive a hard copy by contacting David Ceccarelli at (916) 341-5999. Comments on this proposal are due by noon on June 29, 2011, and comment instructions are contained within the document.

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