Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oregon issues 1,205 permits to mine its waterways

According to reports, the State of Oregon has issued 1,205 Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permits (NPDES) for suction dredge mining. The permits provide authorization to the mine streams and rivers of Oregon. Known as 700 PM, the general permit is issued under the State's authority to implement the Clean Water Act (CWA). It's available on the internet and simply has to be filled out and mailed to Oregon Department of Environmental Quality with a $25.00 check. 700 PM allows the permitees to mine with little or no oversight. Suction dredge mining can begin on the Wild and Scenic Chetco River on July 15th. Note: We incorrectly reported that the state issued 2,000 permits for suction dredge mining.

Under the permit miners are supposed to self-monitor their activities. They're not required to disclose their mining location or submit annual reports. Without this information, it's impossible to ensure adherence to permit restrictions, which are supposed to protect water quality standards and fish. The federal Environmental Protection Agency administers the CWA in Idaho and they recently required location disclosure and annual reports for suction dredge activities in their draft NPDES permit. While the comment period on Oregon's 700 PM suction dredge mining permit has closed you can read about the process and still contact your elected officials. See Pacific Rivers Council.

Who's minding the hen house? Not the Forest Service or BLM. Neither the Forest Service nor the Bureau of Land Management require what they define as small scale mining operators to even notify them. According to Forest Service policy, if miners “reasonably conclude [that] impacts [from their mining operation] are not likely to be significant,” then they do not have to even contact the Forest Service. However, on the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho, the agency is applying a very different set of standards, requiring miners to submit plans of operation, which require details and location of the mining, and reclamation bonds. Mining is monitored and strict limitations put on each operation. Read more about mining our rivers on KS Wild's website and about the proposals to mine the Chetco.

Suction dredge mining season begins: The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife sets in-water work periods. Suction dredge miners are supposed to follow these guidelines. In-water work periods vary by river basin. Some Oregon streams can be mined with suction dredges as early as June 1st. See the in-water work period for each stream or basin.

The suction dredge mining season for the National Wild and Scenic Chetco River will begin on July 15th. With the Chetco being advertised by Chetco River Mining and Exploration to California dredgers and mining clubs as a “free mining corridor” it's hard to say what will happen on the river this summer.

How to help - Representatives Peter DeFazio, David Wu and Earl Blumenaur and Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkely just introduced the Chetco River Protection Act. Absent Mining Law reform it will provide the best possible protection for the Chetco River. Please thank them. See a discussion on measures to protect this Wild and Scenic River and here's how you can help save the Chetco from proposals to mine almost half it length. Please also speak out for rivers and streams near you that are subjected to in-stream mining.

Read about State Senator Jason Atkinson's call for legislation banning suction dredge mining on Oregon's streams and river and write to him in support.