Breakthrough on Suction Dredge Mining Reform

SACRAMENTO, 24 May 2012 – Two legislative budget subcommittees acted yesterday to ensure that suction dredge gold mining in California’s rivers will not be allowed to resume until rules are in place that protect the waterways from environmental degradation.

The Assembly and Senate Budget Subcommittees that oversee the budget of the CA Department of Fish and Game both acted on Wednesday May 23 to clarify the status of suction dredge mining regulation in the state.

Both committees agreed on the need to clarify language from the Resources Omnibus Trailer Bill passed in 2011. That bill included a directive to place a moratorium on suction dredge mining until the Department had created and adopted regulations that did not permit suction dredge mining that had significant environmental impacts – but this language included an arbitrary “sunset clause” that would allow suction dredge mining to resume in 2016 whether or not these conditions were met.

Yesterday, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee #3 on Resources & Transportation adopted specific language that struck the “sunset clause” timeline provision. It also directed the following activity:

The Department shall consult with other agencies as necessary, including but not necessarily limited to, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Public Health, and the Native American Heritage commission, and report back to the Legislature with recommendations as to any additional statutory changes or authorities that may be necessary to develop suction dredge regulations… including mitigation of all identified significant environmental impacts and a fee structure that will fully cover all program costs.

This vote-only item passed the Committee on a 3 – 2 vote. The Senate Budget Subcommittee #2 on Resources & Transportation took similar action about an hour later. The item passed unanimously on a 3 – 0 vote.

Advocates for reform of suction dredge mining to ensure better protection of the environment, public health, cultural sites and fish expressed relief that action to clarify last year’s trailer bill has been taken. A sign-on letter with fishing, tribal and conservation advocates was circulated in support of this action the day before the hearings.

“We hope that this will allow all agencies with a role in regulating the impacts of suction dredge mining, as well as land-owning agencies where miners operate, to weigh in on the state’s suction dredge mining program,” commented Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin, The Sierra Fund CEO who has been working to resolve this issue in the State Capitol for the last several months.