California Mining Reform Law signed by Governor Brown

Late yesterday afternoon Governor Brown signed into law two significant pieces of legislation aimed at improving enforcement of California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA). The Governor signed SB 209 (Pavley) and AB 1142 (Gray), two complementary bills that together represent significant reform to SMARA.

This long-sought mining reform legislation will protect communities against the possibility of dangerous, abandoned eyesores while also ensuring professional sand-and-gravel mining operations will continue to provide the raw material for building a better California. The legislation is the outcome of months of negotiation among the mining industry, local governments and environmental groups that followed Gov. Brown’s call for a “top to bottom” overhaul of mining laws.

The Sierra Fund sponsored one of the paired bills, SB 209, and participated in the Governor’s stakeholder process.  Ideas that emerged from these meetings to strengthen and support consistent enforcement of SMARA by lead agencies were incorporated into the two pieces of legislation signed yesterday.

In a letter asking for the Governor’s signature, Elizabeth Martin, CEO of The Sierra Fund noted that: “Reform of SMARA is a top priority for many Californians, including County Supervisors, responsible mining companies and other businesses, conservation organizations, and community members that live around active mines.”

“Mining law reform is important because local communities can be affected by any number of impacts from mines that do not function properly,” Senator Pavley said. “We knew that mines were not being inspected, that mines had posted inadequate financial guarantees, and that mines were operating under outdated reclamation plans.”

SB 209 and AB 1142 together make numerous changes to the state surface mining provisions regarding reclamation plans, financial assurances, annual inspections, and enforcement.

“The package contains provisions that are important to industry, that will make the bureaucracy work more smoothly, and that will provide the public with better mining operations while providing necessary materials for houses, roads, and infrastructure,” said Assemblyman Gray.

“The State has an interest in regulating mining to ensure that a mine is operated in compliance with its locally issued permit, which protects the State’s water and air from contamination, and to ensure that when the mine ceases operation it is remediated to be ready for a beneficial end use,” Martin notes. Prior to SMARA’s enactment in 1975 – when it was signed by then-Governor Jerry Brown – mines were not required to undergo reclamation at the end of operation, and as a result California has 47,000 un-reclaimed, abandoned legacy mines that pose a serious threat to the health and safety of all Californians.

“Most observers have said the two bills represent the most significant upgrades to the state’s mining laws in nearly a generation,” Pavley said. “There is more to do, but I think we have established a stronger footing for annual inspections, strengthened the role of local governments, provided for better enforcement, reclamation plans, and surety documents for when operators walk away from a mine without completing reclamation.”

Thank you to Senator Pavley and Assembly Member Gray for their hard work in bringing these two bills forward, and to Governor Brown for his leadership on mining reform, both in the 1970s and again this year!