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Heading to the swamp on behalf of small miners

March 16, 2018

I'll try to keep our readers updated on some of our activities while we are here.

3/16/18 Full-day Update

We had a lively discussion about NEPA, suction gold dredging, (the lack of) timber production, Endangered Species Act, putting an end to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), DRCP (Desert Renewable Conservation Plan), habitat conservation plans run amok, and much more with members of the current administration who support our efforts.

One of the more contentious discussions was about the lawyers for the Department of Justice, USDA and all the agencies under the Department of Interior. The lawyers in DC and across the West are operating as if Obama is still in office, walking all over the rights of miners, ranchers and energy producers. Clark and others present at this meeting made it very clear the Trump Administration needs to clean house and put lawyers in place who will support the Trump Administration's position. There was an obvious and welcome change in the attitude of the employees compared to the past administration.

Although Clark and I had both been cleared for the next meeting in advance, we were part of a group and there was not enough room for both of us to get in. So, sadly, I walked around like a tourist for a couple of hours—Clark is much more proficient in the law and issues facing small miners than I am, and he needed to be included.

Clark reported that more quality ideas were exchanged, which included a discussion about additional national monuments that need to be reduced or rescinded. Clark presented a copy of the letter written by Don Smith of Idaho (and signed by seven members of the Idaho legislature) regarding the EPA and suction gold dredging. The staff was unaware of the problems faced by suction dredgers and agreed to make sure the President knows that follow-up is needed with the EPA about the clarification and guidance requested. (See 3/13/18 update below for more details.)

In the afternoon, we had three hours of meetings in the House. We had serious discussions about many of the same topics—LWCF, national monuments, NEPA streamlining, management plans, ESA, EPA, DRCP, and lawyers for the various agencies who are still arguing cases as if they represent the Obama administration priorities.

We have one more day-long meeting tommorow (Saturday), but I can't talk about that one. I'll just say it's a strategy meeting.

We have an opportunity for some big changes that will provide much needed relief for small-scale miners. We have a few bills and a few issues that we are going to need your help on. We will be asking you to contact your members of Congress in both the House and the Senate to make some of these issues a higher priority. I'll be publishing this information in our April issue and I'll alert you here on our Facebook page when the time comes.

Something you can do in the meantime:

We are asking all of you to please fire off a letter, call or email to Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado). Senator Gardner is holding up the confirmations of several key appointees for the Department of Justice in a protest because he wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to his change his position on marijuana enforcement. These appointees are desperately needed to "right the ship" in the Department of Justice and to rein in the lawyers who are still prosecuting individuals based on the Obama-era policies. This blockade is negatively impacting public lands users all across the West.

If Senator Gardner wants to continue his protest, he needs to find another avenue that does not hold up these desperately needed appointees and harm public land users!

Please be respectful when you send him a message.

Contact info for Senator Cory Gardner:

Senator Cory Gardner
354 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-5941
Fax:  (202) 224-6524

You can send him an email using this form: www.gardner.senate.gov/contact-cory/email-cory

And this is his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/SenCoryGardner/

Twitter: @SenCoryGardner

Here is the "tweet" I sent out this evening:

3/15/18 Afternoon/Evening Update:

This was a long day. After a late lunch we met with Representative Tom McClintock (R-California), chairman of the Public Lands subcommittee. We talked about our proposed amendment and discussed issues related to NEPA, over-regulation, the lack of timber harvesting, and more. We will follow up with him when we return.

We tried to meet with Congressman Mark Amodei (R-California), but he was not available. We provided copies of our prosposed amendment and supporting documentation to his staff and will follow up at a later date.

The next meeting was with the staff of Congressman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

There was some rather disheartening news about the Land and Water Conservation Fund. There are bills moving through the House that propose to fully fund the LWCF, which has been a thorn in the side of public land users of all types. Despite not being able to adequately care for public lands currently under their care or control, and the huge backlog at the US Park Service, many in the federal government want to continue to add to the federal estate. (Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) also has $50 million in LWCF money in her proposed bill.)

We discussed our proposed amendment and supplied the documents to Bishop's staff.

In the evening, the discussion surrounded NEPA and changes that could be made to  streamline the regulatory process. Again, we discussed our proposed amendment and offered our assistance in helping to streamline the regulatory process for small-scale miners.

During today's meetings, Joe Martori and Bill Jensen were there representing the Minerals and Mining Advisory Council. They offered up a list of minerals and metals that need to be added to the list of critical and strategic minerals and metals, and discussed ways that mining districts could provide assistance.

Over dinner, Clark and I were discussing the possibility of permitting suction gold dredging through the US Forest Service, bypassing the requirement for a state suction dredge permit. It seems like an opportune time to approach this issue and possibly give suction gold dredgers the choice to come under state or federal jurisdiction.

3/15/18 Morning Update:

Spent the morning discussing Forest Service access and over-regulation issues for small miners. A staff member stated he was not as knowledgeable and proficient in Forest Service mining complaints and mining regulations as he would like to be and asked Clark and I if we would be willing to work with him on mining-related issues going into the future. He stated things are still very fluid at the Department of Agriculture; there are still may openings to be filled and many others who need to be let go. There is a large void caused by a lack of confirmations that can be attributed to Senator Chuck Schumer delaying confirmations. He stated it's a priority for his agency to return to supporting miners, ranchers, loggers and othe public land users.

We will be following up with him upon our return home.

Next we met with Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) personally, and presented our proposed amendment to him and his legislative director. Rep. Gosar is working on a host of issues that impact small miners. He recognized there are problems at the highest levels in DC, including some high-level attorneys in the Department of Justice who are still arguing in support of Obama-era policies even though those policies have changed.

Rep. Gosar is a co-sponor of HR 520, which is the companion bill to S 145 by Dean Heller. Rep. Gosar pledged to have his legislative director review our proposed amendment and get back to us.

Rep. Gosar also mentioned the confirmation problem. He stated at the current rate, it will take ten years to get all of the vacant appointments filled!

That's it for now...

3/14/18 Afternoon Update:

A very busy afternoon! We provided our proposed amendment and background information to the staffs of Congressman Raul Labrador (R-Colorado), Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colorado), Congressman Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado), Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Colorado), Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-California), and Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming).

We focused on these legislators because they are on either the US Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee or the US House Committee on Natural Resources and we'll need their support to get the amendment passed out of committee. Our job will be to follow up with each of them upon our return to answer any questions they might have and to gauge their support.

One of the difficulties we face is the turnover in DC. We were here in March 2017, and during that one-year period, around 60% of the legislative directors in the various offices have moved on to other jobs—some are just working for other members of Congress, some have moved on to the private sector, and others are working for one of the agencies at the Department of Interior. We walked into an office and requested a specific person, but there was a decent chance they were no longer there.

Ideally, we would like to return to DC in a month to sit down with each of them to continue this effort if Public Lands for the People receives sufficient funding from the small mining community.

3/14/18 Morning Update:

Had a good meeting with the legislative assistant for Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska). She understood the reasons behind the amendment and was supportive of our proposed amendment.

We spent quite awhile trying to get in to see Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), but had to settle for providing the proposed amendment and supporting materials to her staff. She is the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. She currently has an 898-page bill (S 1460), the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, that actually has little to do with mineral development. We spent a couple of hours reviewing that bill last night. We will follow up with her staff at a later date.

We plan to meet with six members of the House Natural Resources Committee after lunch.

We are receiving assistance from a gentleman who was part of President Trump's tranisition team. He has arranged meetings for us all day on Thursday and Friday. More on that later...

3/13/18 Afternoon Update:

Besides the EPA issue mentioned in my last update, our major priority is to work on the proposed amendment to the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act (S 145), a bill proposed in the Senate by US Senator Dean Heller (R-Nevada).

Clark authored our proposed amendment to address issues faced by small-scale miners that were not included in Heller's bill. (See "PLP to Address Needs of Small Miners with Proposed Amendment" in our March 2018 issue.)

During lunch we learned that Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Senator James Risch (R-Idaho) are now co-sponsors of S 145, so we headed over to their offices. We presented the proposed amendment, provided copies to the staffs at both offices and made arrangements to speak with their legislative directors at a later date.

Our last afternoon meeting was with the legislative director for Senator Dean Heller. He seems to understand many of the issues small-scale miners face. Clark went through the legal authorities for each change we are seeking in the proposed amendment and provided him with the documentation to back them up. It was recommended we also touch bases with the staff of Senator Steve Daines (R-Montana) and with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

We headed over to Senator Daines' office and met with his staff and provided them with a copy of the proposed amendment and the justification behind it.

We spent the last part of the day trying to set up a meeting with the office of Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. We are waiting for a call back on that one.

Tommorrow (Wednesday) may be a light day as we only have one confirmed meeting. We have five meetings scheduled for Thursday and another three meetings for Friday, including one that will last nearly three hours.

I'll catch up with you again after our Wednesday meeting with Congressman Don Young (R-Alaska).

3/13/18 Morning Update:

The first meeting went very well, discussing EPA issues.

PLP member Don Smith had put together a summary of the issues facing suction gold dredgers in Idaho. This included meetings with the Idaho DEQ and their reluctance to follow the law regarding suction dredge mining.

Don's letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt requested clarification and guidance be issued by the EPA regarding suction gold dredging and permitting. Numerous courts have affirmed that no NPDES permit is required when there is no addition of a pollutant. Of course, there is no addition caused by use of a suction gold dredge; material is pulled through the dredge and placed at or near its original location. State agencies—like the Idaho DEQ and others across the West—are fearful of losing their funding if they determine that a NPDES permit is unwarranted.

(Photo: Clark Pearson at the EPA building in Washington, DC.)

We appreciate the support of members of the Idaho legislature who signed on to the letter we presented to the EPA:

  • Idaho State Senator Carl Crabtree
  • Idaho State Rep. Barbara Chase
  • Idaho State Rep. Priscilla Giddings
  • Idaho State Rep. Don Cheatham
  • Idaho State Rep. Paul Shepherd
  • Idaho State Rep. Terry Gestrin
  • Idaho State Rep. Ron Mendive

We hand-delivered this letter  and had the opportunity to discuss the legal background. Clark had already completed the legal research and provided supporting documentation, including the legal definitions of "incidental fallback" and "addition of a pollutant," along with the related court cases.

The issue was understood and will be passed to the appropriate department head.

Stay tuned...

3/13/18. Here we go. In DC now. Heading into the swamp with Clark Pearson of Public Lands for the People to see if we can get some relief for small-scale miners.

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