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Miner's News

New California suction gold dredging regulations released for comment and they are just as bad as we predicted

May 14, 2020

by Scott Harn, Editor/Publisher
ICMJs Prospecting and Mining Journal

We've warned our readers many times about not getting their hopes up. After years of delays, California finally released their proposed scheme for suction gold dredge permits, and it's just what we expected. The California State Water Resources Control Board issued proposed regulations on May 13, 2020, but it reads more like a list of prohibitions.

Here are the highlights -- or more aptly, the lowlights:

• A suction gold dredging permit will cost you $2,572.
• The reporting requirements (water quality, turbidity, etc.) are so extreme that you would really need to hire someone as an on-site monitor.
• Virtually all of the current and historical gold-bearing streams are off-limits due to endangered or threatened species, or due to the presence of mercury or other heavy metals.

As we have been stating for several years, the Board is appointed by the governor. If the Board does not do the governor's bidding, they will be out of a job and a new person will be appointed to take that spot. There is very little science involved; it's all driven by politics and money, and the environmental groups have plenty of money to spare. (If it were science-based, there would be a serious discussion about the mitigating factors and the benefits of dredging, including the removal of heavy metals from our waterways.)

There has been much time, effort and money wasted by trying to sway the opinions of the Board. The Board deliberately placed historic mining areas off-limits because they know that nobody in their right mind will pay in excess of $2,500 for a permit and conform to their extreme requirements to dredge in a river or stream where no gold is present.

Just last month, I wrote:

"I want to stress that states like California are not friendly to suction gold dredgers, and you should not expect any reasonable regulations to come from the California State Water Resources Control Board. California has delayed the implementation of a permitting scheme for years, and we expect the Board will continue to make most gold-bearing streams and rivers off-limits, include exorbitant fees and extreme reporting requirements, and restrict working times enough to make the endeavor unprofitable for all miners.

"Suction gold dredgers who apply for the Section 402 EPA permit are identifying themselves as polluters just by applying for the permit and should also be keenly aware of the citizen’s suit provision of the Clean Water Act. The Idaho Conservation League used this provision to sue several suction gold dredgers in Idaho;  some dredged without the EPA permit while others went beyond the restrictions laid out in their permits.

"The only way to restore suction gold dredging, in our opinion, is to use federal preemption and change the regulatory scheme at the federal level."

I still believe suction gold dredgers can and will overcome the permitting scheme put forth by states like California, but -- as I've stated many times -- the path must go through Washington, DC. I've been traveling to DC now for four years, and I made five trips and spent a total of 35 days there in 2019, with Public Lands for the People. We've had some real good meetings with members of the Trump administration and his appointees. We all agree that there are at least three essential changes that need to be made in DC:

1) The federal government needs to assert federal preemption so miners can utilize a suction gold dredge on a federal mining claim. (We expect such an assertion to be made by BLM shortly through rulemaking; we are still working on the US Forest Service.)
2) The EPA needs to clarify that the need for a Clean Water Act permit is triggered by the "addition" of a pollutant, which is clearly defined in the statute, and that no such "addition" occurs when utilizing a suction dredge. (A petition has already been submitted to request this clarification. A face-to-face meeting at the EPA in DC was in the works but had to be postponed due to the coronavirus.)
3) The miner needs to be given a choice -- he/she can choose state or federal regulations, but both shall not apply because they almost always conflict, are duplicative, or states (like California) use them to outlaw mining. 

Clark Pearson (Public Lands for the People) and I presented these proposed changes to members of the House and Senate in DC, along with staffers at BLM, USFS, MSHA, EPA, USGS, to President Trump's advisor on energy and environment, and we even had a meeting with officials at the Pentagon. (We had another conference call with folks in DC just yesterday.) Our next trip will be to meet with Trump appointees at the EPA and it looks like we will also meet with one of his top advisors, but it may not be until after the 2020 elections.

I want to stress that despite what you read in the news, there are some smart people in DC who have a good grasp on the problems we miners face.  We will get dredgers back in the water, but it's not going to be by negotiating with the California State Water Resources Control Board.  PLP and the Mining Journal are committed to seeing this through.  I realize it's not happening as quickly as you or I would like, but we haven't lost sight of the goalposts. With your continued support, we will get it done.

• Our proposed legislation. (It's titled "Critical Minerals" but designed/written to lift all mining operations. A summary of the issues with China is listed first, followed by the proposed legislation beginning on page 7.)
• California State Water Resources Control Board: Notice of Proposed Statewide Suction Dredge Mining General Permit

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