US Supreme Court Denies Review of Suction Dredge Mining Case

Today, the United States Supreme Court denied the petition to review the Rinehart v. State of California case, decided by the California Supreme Court in 2016. The State Supreme Court ruled that California’s temporary ban on suction dredge mining is not preempted by the federal Mining Act of 1872. Click here for the US Supreme Court’s docket report for the Rinehart case.

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.

Rinehart petitioned for US Supreme Court review of the decision in early 2017. In December 2017, the US Government filed an amicus brief opposing US Supreme Court review of the case. Rinehart’s petition was denied on January 8, 2018.

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.