Suction dredge miner challenges misapplication of Clean Water Act
March 30, 2023
San Francisco; March 30, 2023: Yesterday, Shannon Poe appealed a district court ruling that misapplied the Clean Water Act and ordered him to pay $150,000 in fines and obtain a permit to continue his suction dredge mining operation.
“The district court’s ruling is indefensible. The Clean Water Act prevents pollution of the waters of the U.S. It doesn’t prevent people from removing sediment,” said Damien Schiff, senior attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. “Mr. Poe’s activities didn’t add anything to the streams. He made them cleaner. The district court cannot redefine what constitutes a discharge of a pollutant on its own initiative.”
Suction dredge mining — which uses a small engine and hose to remove heavy sediment from streambeds — is legal in Idaho. In fact, it’s encouraged by state and federal officials as it removes harmful metals like mercury from the water supply. Shannon got all the necessary permits from the State of Idaho and began mining in 2007.
In 2018, the Idaho Conservation League filed a lawsuit against Shannon claiming that he had violated the Clean Water Act by adding pollutants to a federally protected water. But suction dredge mining doesn’t add anything to the water; it only removes pollutants. The court, based on a 33-year-old decision, found that the agitation of the water and sediment constituted the addition of a pollutant to the stream despite the obvious fact that nothing was added to the stream.
The case is Shannon Poe v. Idaho Conservation League, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 17 wins of 19 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.