March 31, 2014

California agency proposes continuation of mining ban

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

Since 2009, California has forbidden the use of suction dredge mining equipment until the agency in charge of regulating this mining — the Department of Fish and Wildlife — develops regulations to mitigate any adverse environmental effects. However, the Department doesn’t think this is possible and this temporary moratorium has become a permanent ban.

The Department has recently proposed amendments to its regulations to continue the ban and expand it to all suction dredge mining, regardless of whether it is motorized or even recreational. It is expanding the ban despite a number of ongoing legal challenges asserting that the ban illegally conflicts with federal law because it is too restrictive. In one of those cases a miner is being criminally prosecuted for working his federally recognized mining claim with a suction dredge, consciously protesting the illegal ban. PLF is participating in that case as amicus and filed this amicus brief arguing that federal mining law forbids California from prohibiting the commercially viable use of these federal claims.

This week PLF filed a comment letter criticizing the proposed expansion of the ban. That letter explains that, to survive scrutiny under federal law, the ban must provide an exception for those federal mining claims that can only be profitably worked using suction dredge technology. As proposed, the regulations don’t do that. Therefore, they’re illegal.

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