US Gov Brief on Suction Dredge Case

Earlier this month, the US Government filed an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court opposing the Court’s review of the Rinehart v. State of California case. In 2016 the California Supreme Court unanimously decided that the State’s temporary ban on suction dredge mining is not preempted by the federal Mining Act of 1872. Rinehart petitioned for US Supreme Court review of the decision in early 2017.

The recent brief filed by the United States supports the decision of the CA Supreme Court and asserts that the US Supreme Court should deny review of the Rinehart case. The US Supreme Court has not stated whether it will review the case.

Read the full Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae.

North Fork American River. Photo Credit: Upper American River Foundation.

Case Background
California instated a moratorium on suction dredge mining in 2009 after the State Legislature found that the practice adversely impacts the environment and public health. In 2012, Rinehart was found operating a suction dredge on his unpatented mining claim in the Plumas National Forest and was charged with two misdemeanors. In trial court, Rinehart argued that the federal Mining Act preempted the State’s ban on suction dredging. The argument was rejected and Rinehart was convicted.

In 2014 a CA Court of Appeal reversed the decision, concluding that the moratorium would be preempted if it caused gold mining on the claim to be “commercially impracticable.” The case went to the CA Supreme Court, which upheld Rinehart’s conviction, confirming that states may restrict the use of certain mining technologies in order to protect the environment.

Permitting Suction Dredge Mining
California has required a permit for suction dredge mining since 1961, shortly after the technique was popularized. The 2009 moratorium suspended the permitting regime pending environmental review and an updated, protective regulatory structure.

In 2015, Senate Bill 637 was signed into law, authorizing the State Water Resources Control Board to permit or deny suction dredge mining in order to protect water quality under the Clean Water Act. The Sierra Fund sponsored this legislation and has been active in the Water Boards’ process to determine the best regulatory structure to carry out SB 637’s mandate.