Mining Policy Bills Introduced into CA Legislature 2011 Session

Summary by Elizabeth Martin, The Sierra Fund

Five proposals that impact mining have been introduced in the California state legislature this year.  The following is a brief description of each bill.

SB 657, Gaines:     Vacuum or suction dredge equipment
SB 657 would repeal the prohibition on the use of vacuum or suction dredge equipment that was enacted by the passage of a bill in 2009 (SB 670 authored by Senator Patricia Wiggins and supported by The Sierra Fund).  SB 670 was passed as an urgency measure, with 2/3 vote in support.  SB 657 would exempt the issuance of permits to operate vacuum or suction dredge equipment from the California Environmental Quality Act until January 1, 2014. The bill would also require the department to refund a specified portion of the fee paid by a person issued a permit and who is also subject to the prohibition on the use of vacuum or suction dredge equipment. The bill would require the department to complete an economic impact report on the prohibition on the use of vacuum and suction dredge equipment. It is an urgency measure requiring 2/3 vote.  Assigned to Senate Natural Resources Committee.

SB 108, Rubio:   Surface mining: idle mines
This bill alters the definition of “idle” mining operations.  It sets expenditure minimums that if exceeded, would prohibit the mine from being deemed to be “idle.” The bill redefines the criteria a local authority or the state can use to deem a mine “idle” and thus compel it to commence reclamation if it does not have an “interim management plan,” which under existing law, can be approved for up to ten years.  The bill also creates interim management plans that can be perpetually renewed and creates new legal procedures that localities or the state must go through before enforcing the provisions of reclamation plans or interim management plans. Assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee.

SB 110, Rubio:       Nuisance: mining activities.
This bill provides that a mining operation cannot be deemed a “nuisance” under the Civil Code if it has been operating for three years, consistent with customary mining practices in the area.  These are not defined. Assigned to Senate Natural Resources Committee.

AB 566, Galgiani:  Resources:  surface mining
This bill integrates the provisions to designate significant mineral areas of the state into the framework of SB 375. (Sections of SB 375 contain definitions of resources that must be taken into account in doing regional planning pursuant to SB 375, to include mineral lands.)  AB 566 could be used to require that SB 375 planning not only take these areas into account, but also make mandatory the designation of those SMBG or OPR designated in all plans, and, to require that the use of those lands be restricted to mineral extraction if they are the most Greenhouse Gas efficient way of providing aggregate and other minerals to a particular area. Whether AB 566 is intended to apply to federal lands is not clear. The findings in AB 566 not only recognize the need of the state for infrastructure resources, but also find that “the production and development” of these resources is important to the state.  The bill then ties this production to a reduction in SB 375/AB 32 “transportation emissions.” Back from printer, may be heard in committee 3/19.

SB 792, Steinberg:  Surface mining: mineral resource management policies
The Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 prohibits a person from conducting surface mining operations unless a permit is obtained from, a reclamation plan is submitted to and approved by, and financial assurances for reclamation have been approved by, the lead agency for the operation. Existing law requires a lead agency to establish mineral resource management policies to be incorporated into the lead agency’s general plan. This bill would require the policy additionally to assist in the management of land use that affects access to areas of statewide and regional significance. The bill would also make technical changes. Back from printer, may be acted on after 3/22.