SB 670 by Senator Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), requiring the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to temporarily halt issuing all suction dredge mining permits, has passed off the California State Senate Floor with 31 aye votes, including bi-partisan support from Republicans and Democrats around the state. The bill easily garnered the 2/3 aye votes needed to be adopted as an urgency measure, meaning it will take effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature.
Next the bill will move to the State Assembly, which will likely assign the bill to the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee chaired by Assemblymember Jared Huffman. Mr. Huffman is a co-author of the bill, along with Assemblymembers Evans and Jones.
If SB 670 passes, the moratorium on issuing permits would last until DFG completes its court-ordered environmental review and resulting overhaul of regulations governing the practice. It is estimated that this will save the Department nearly $1 million in costs to administer a program that does not pay for itself, and allow it to dedicate saved funding toward paying for the EIR necessary to complete regulatory review.
DFG was ordered by the California courts to conduct an environmental review and rule change as a result of a Karuk Tribe lawsuit filed in 2005. The courts ordered DFG to complete the review and make appropriate rule changes by July 2008, but they have not met this deadline.
Suction dredging disturbs fish habitat, putting endangered species such as Coho salmon and green sturgeon at risk. In addition, repeated government studies have shown that suction dredge activities disturb and mobilize the mercury left behind from gold mining operations. There is little credible scientific doubt about the impact of suction dredging in “flouring” mercury, nor the increased potential for methylation that can result. Methylmercury has been a regulatory concern of the State for years due its known serious effect on human health.
The bill is supported by Karuk Tribe, California Tribal Business Alliance, CalTrout, Planning and Conservation League, Sierra Club California, Sierra Nevada Alliance, Clean Water Action and The Sierra Fund. It is opposed by the New 49’ers and Siskiyou County. A full listing of organizations that support or oppose the bill plus the analysis of the bill can be found at this link: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/09-10/bill/sen/sb_0651-0700/sb_670_cfa_20090512_163215_sen_floor.html
For more information about the impact of suction dredging or about the impact of California mining, download The Sierra Fund’s groundbreaking report “Mining’s Toxic Legacy” at this link: