April 20, 2017

Briefing complete on cert. petition in Rinehart v. California

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

This week, we filed our final brief asking the Supreme Court of the United States to review a challenge to California’s broad ban on suction dredge mining. Our client, Brandon Rinehart, was criminally prosecuted for mining his claim on federal land.

California bans suction dredge mining, even on federal lands, despite the fact that Congress encourages mining on federal lands, as it has for more than 150 years. In a previous case, the Supreme Court held that states can supplement federal regulation of mining to address environmental impacts. But, unsatisfied with this authority, California chose to ban suction dredge mining entirely. By taking that unprecedented step, California went crossed the line between supplementing federal law (kosher) and frustrating it (preempted). There’s a lot at stake in this case, including how conflicts over federal land use will be resolved, the future of environmental federalism, and the incomes of miners throughout the country.

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Rinehart v. California

California’s original Forty-Niners made their fortunes in gold with shovels and pans. Modern-day prospectors use a “suction dredge” – a specialized vacuum – to suck up sediment from streams, extract the gold, and then return the sediment to the stream. Federal law not only permits but encourages suction dredge mining, even on federal lands, while states retain the right to require permits and regulate environmental impacts. Unsatisfied with this balanced approach, California banned suction-dredge mining entirely. Brandon Rinehart, who profitably mined his Nugget Alley claim in the Plumas National Forest for years, was convicted of violating the ban over his defense that the ban is preempted by the federal Mining Act of 1872.

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