Mining Reform Bill SB1270 Passes First Senate Hurdle

The Senate Natural Resources Committee yesterday passed SB 1270 (Pavley), the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) Reform Act on a vote of 7 – 2.

The Sierra Fund is sponsor of the bill, and Elizabeth Martin, CEO, spoke yesterday as an expert witness on the benefits of the bill.  Senator Fran Pavley, Chair of the Committee and author of the bill introduced the bill with the note that this is the first time that SMARA has been revisited since legislation championed by California State Senator Byron Sher in the 1990s.

“This bill does not in any way interfere with County land use authority to permit mines,” noted Martin, a former Nevada County Supervisor and before that a Nevada County Planning Commissioner.  “It does bring new tools to the Department of Conservation to help improve implementation of SMARA.  It creates a Division of Mines overseen by a State Mine Inspector; and helps improve transparency in how mining fees are used to fund enforcement.  And, of course, it puts a major focus on improving the rate and quality of the already mandated annual mine inspections.”

Brian Baca, a mining expert who has served on the State Mining and Geology Board, also spoke as a technical witness before the committee.  Advocates from a number of organizations including Environmental Working Group, Trust for Public Land, Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and more stood up in favor of the bill.  Advocates for counties, and a number of representatives from the mining industry, spoke about their concerns.

Senator Pavley’s staff is working with Counties and mining industry representatives to design amendments that will address the concerns that they have raised.  The Sierra Fund continues to be committed to the process of finding common ground with all stakeholders.  The bill will likely be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Committee later this spring.

In other news from the Capitol

Also yesterday the Senate Natural Resources moved forward SB 1259 (Pavley), a bill that would authorize the CA Department of Water Resources (DWR) to investigate and gather data to study the loss of storage capacity behind dams resulting from siltation and to complete an initial study by January 1, 2017.  The bill would also require that the study include an evaluation of cost-effective strategies for sediment removal, relative to the costs of alternative methods of flood protection and water supply.  This bill passed unanimously and will likely be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Committee later this spring.