A trailer bill has been quietly approved by the two Budget Committees in the California legislature to impose an additional 5-year moratorium on suction dredging, which includes elimination of the last bit of funding to finish the ongoing (and nearly completed) review of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that supports our regulations. The budget has yet to be voted upon by the full legislature or governor. If passed into law, this would effectively put an end to suction dredging in California for the next 6 seasons or more.
Justification for the moratorium is based upon two arguments: The first is that the annual suction dredge permitting and enforcement program costs California more than the State receives in permit fees. But the Department of Fish & Game (DFG) recently testified in Alameda Superior Court that they take in more permit revenues from suction dredging than the cost of managing our program. So we know this is not true. And what about all of the economic activity that suction dredging generates in California? Recent estimates from DFG place that at $23 million per year before the first moratorium was imposed in 2009.
Besides, if this were really about funding, the State legislature is very experienced at increasing permit fees (this is not an encouragement). It only requires a single legislative session to accomplish that.
This is really about closing down a productive industry in California!
The second justification for an additional moratorium (and the real reason behind it) is that anti-mining activists do not like the way the environmental review is going. My sources are telling me that DFG has processed over 10,000 comments from the public over the suction dredging program; and, thanks to you guys, has decided to adopt regulations which are more user-friendly to our industry than what they had proposed several months ago. Our adversaries do not like that.
I always believed that the Administrative process would come out in our favor. California adopted the Administrative process to make certain the least-restrictive regulations would be imposed upon small business and property owners to resolve real issues that could be demonstrated by truth and science. Mark Stopher, the DFG official in charge of our environmental review, told FoxNews.com, “It's our view that suction dredging can be regulated in a way that we don't have deleterious effect on fish at the population level”
So now that the Administrative process (which was ordered by both the California legislature and Alameda Superior Court) is coming out in our favor, the California legislature is considering trashing its own legal Administrative process; and voting to eliminate the most productive method of small-scale gold mining remaining within the State.
By the way, if California now votes to stop funding the ongoing environmental review, the State will be in contempt of Alameda Superior Court’s Order to get it done! Can anyone wonder why the State is broke?
Thanks to the Internet, many supporters have been mobilized during this previous week, and lots of people are voicing opposition to the budget language that would impose the additional 5-year moratorium. Here is a sample letter for you to copy the text, sign and either mail or fax to Governor Brown. Please remember to include your address below where you sign your name. Governor Brown’s postal address and fax number are included at the top of the sample letter.
I do not want to detract from ongoing efforts to resolve this in the California legislature. But this is the right time to also make a hard push for you guys to support our legal drawing, which only has about a month remaining (3 ounces of my gold from last season).
Many of you will recall several years ago when the entire industry stood behind the effort to prevent Senate Bill 670 (first moratorium) from being passed into law. We had hired one of Sacramento’s most experienced lobbyists to direct our efforts, and put the full weight of our resources into the effort to defeat that bill. In the end, everydemocrat and about half the republicans in the California legislature voted against us, and the bill was signed by a republican governor. This was not for lack of enough effort on the part of miners. We were just up against a stacked deck. And maybe we still are!
So I strongly suggest that we need to prepare right now for what comes next if this 5-year moratorium is passed into law.
My prediction is that we will need to challenge the new moratorium in court. I have asked our attorney to start preparing for a court challenge. Here is a preliminary memo from him on this subject.
Get this: Originally, no permit from the State was required at all to do suction dredging on the federal lands in California. Then California passed a law saying that we would be in violation of State law unless we obtained a permit from them to operate suction dredges. Now they are passing a series of moratoriums which prevent State agencies from issuing permits for suction dredging. That amounts to a deliberate prohibition of suction dredging on the federal lands. The Supreme Court has already ruled that state legislatures to not have the authority to do this.
In case you had not realized it, we are directly on the front lines of the war upon America. It is a pretty ugly situation when special interests can persuade a state legislature (or county commissioners, or whoever) to vote your property rights and productive livelihoods out of existence; just like that! Someone wise once said that the problem with a democracy is that it will eventually be taken over by special interests to the detriment of the average person who must work for a living. Are we there, yet?
The truth is that even if we manage to overcome this situation with politics (and we should try), our adversaries will be back to do it again, and again. The only long term solution is for a higher court to decide that this sort of nonsense cannot be done.
The reason I am pushing legal fundraising right now is because I do not want to take the lead on another legal challenge unless there is a strong showing of support at the beginning (support in money, not just words) from you guys. I hate to sound like a sissy, but the last two legal actions which I led had me owing more than $30K (each time) at various times (to attorneys) because industry support was not keeping up with the costs.
That's the thing about getting into a fight. Once you are in the ring, you are committed to last it out, even if the guy in your corner quits or takes a break. It can get pretty stressful for the guy (me) who must sign a pledge to pay the lawyers! So before initiating a legal action on behalf of the industry, I need to know that you guys are going to stand behind me.
Irresponsible Mining Practices
Because of the moratorium on suction dredging, we now have more members digging for gold up out of the water. Therefore, our Internal Affairs guys are keeping busy trying to prevent the activity from exceeding the agreements that we have made with the U.S. Forest Service.
I explained in last month’s newsletter the reasons why our combined impacts cannot rise above the level of what our local forest ranger considers to be a “substantial surface disturbance.” So I will not go into that again. But I will say that, as an organized group, we have two choices on how to work things out with the Forest Service. Either we can do it as a group program where the cumulative impact remains less than substantial; or each individual member can work out your own program with the Forest Service. We have been successfully doing it the first way now since 1986. This is the better way for you guys, because there is much less hassle when you do not have to get a pass from the Ranger every time you want to prospect in another place along our extensive properties.
But the only way we can continue under a group program such as ours is if each of us remains within our Surface Mining Guidelines.
The challenge of our Internal Affairs is to prevent just a few aggressive, irresponsible guys from ruining the opportunity for everyone else.
Our surface mining guidelines are included as part of our published Rules. But the main points are as follows:
1) Your excavation should not be any larger than necessary to continue your work safely. Otherwise, you should be back-filling your hole as you make progress. We do not want to see any large holes out there that you “plan to back-fill later.”
2) You should not be undermining the bank of the waterway or any trees (like digging into the roots of a tree that is sitting next to the stream).
3) You must fill your hole completely back in before you start a new excavation or depart the area.Please do not leave any open excavations behind!
4) If you are processing pay-dirt with pumped water, the water that flows from your recovery system cannot discharge material from the bank, or dirty water, into the active waterway.
If everyone just stays within these guidelines, we would not have much of a problem keeping our program under the radar. The problem is that there are some people who do not care about these guidelines, or the consequences to themselves or the rest of us from irresponsible mining practices. That is the reason I have brought up this subject two months in a row.
We have discovered from long experience that second chances nearly always result in just more irresponsible mining. Therefore, be warned that we will immediately suspend mining privileges along our properties for anyone who is doing irresponsible mining.
Since this kind of message is not normally understood by the guys who disregard our rules, this is mostly for the benefit of all our good members. I suspect the irresponsible ones will make plenty of noise about how unfair we are when their mining privileges are suspended. I am already hearing noise from some of them. Here is how it sounds:“We have too many rules.” “We have sold out to the government agencies.” “We have breached our agreement by changing the rules.” “We are doing false advertising.” The truth is that our high-banking (surface mining) rules have not changed since 1986, all the way back to our first season!
Believe me when I say that we have a firm policy about just leaving you alone so you can get on with your program, as long as you are operating within our rules. We are plenty busy without having to run around and hassle members!
On that note, we will be suspending the mining privileges of several well-known members this next week. Based upon how things have been going, more suspensions are likely to follow. This is likely to be painful all around. But if we do not get a handle on irresponsible miners, things are going to be more difficult for everyone else. I do not intend to be a sissy when it comes down to a few irresponsible people who would ruin it for everyone else. So when you hear the stories about how unfair we are, at least you will know what it is about.