Tuesday, May 17, 2011

California—public loses with suction dredge mining

In California, lawmakers have moved to block funding for suction dredge mining permits. As Catherine Freeman, consultant for the legislative panel, put it:
If you suction dredge and you take out a fish breeding ground, well, you've probably gained some money, but the public has lost and the public trust has lost.
According to this Oregon Public Broadcasting article, Freeman says,
[I]t's expensive for the state to ensure that mining is in compliance with environmental standards ... issuing and enforcing permits would cost the state $2 million.
The same article quotes Lesley Adams of Rogue Riverkeeper, a group that has sued the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality over its lack of oversight:
DEQ has no requirement that miners report on their mining activities.  So we have no idea when and where and how often these miners are mining in our creeks that have salmon in them.
Ironically, the USDA Forest Service has no idea either. So in Oregon it's almost a free-for-all for miners who extract gold from the public's lands and waters for free. [1]

Under a 2005 Bush Administration rule change, miners are no longer required to submit even a notice to the Forest Service when and where they plan to mine—unless the miners think their activity might cause harm.  What seems like a minor amendment to the Forest Service's surface mining regulations has big implications for protecting the fresh water habitat of the native, naturally reproducing salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout of our Wild Rivers Coast.

It's now up to the agency to go out looking for mining operations, which are often not in compliance with regulations.  With usually just one full time staff person to cover over a million acres, this is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Almost immediately after President Bush took office, the Forest Service also gutted a Northwest Forest Plan provision that required an approved plan-of-operation before mining in the habitat of sensitive, threatened, or endangered fish populations could occur.  The effort was lead by miners from Oregon.

The management of mining in streams and rivers flowing through our National Forests is now less stringent than it has been for decades—not a good thing when ocean conditions are increasingly stressful for salmonids. And the Obama Administration has done nothing to restore—let alone strengthen—the nominal regulation of mining that was in place before his predecessor took the reins from President Clinton.

It's time for Oregon to follow California's lead—and save money by protecting our best salmon habitat from the degradation of instream mining.  It's time for President Obama to begin the process of strengthening regulations that govern mining on our National Forest and BLM lands.  It's time for citizens to say "enough" --no more giveaways of the public's lands and minerals to a few individuals or multi-national corporations. And it's way past time for Congress to reform the 1872 Mining Law.

Read the full Oregon Public Broadcasting article here.

[1]  Author's note:  Under the 1872 Mining Law, the federal government (public) gets no royalties or proceeds from the valuable minerals miners extract from lands and rivers that belong to all Americans. In Oregon, instream miners pay a nominal fee for a general state permit. If they own a mining claim or claims, they pay fees to cover the cost of recording and paper work.  However, if they own 10 claims or less, they can file for a "small miner exemption" to be excused from the fee. In Oregon mining claims are not taxable property so they do not contribute to the property tax base of counties.

While the valuable minerals on publicly owned lands are free to the miners, the costs of environmental damage, disruptions to spawning and rearing habitat, administration, and clean-up are borne by the public.

See also the cost estimate to the taxpayer of $800,000 for Chetco River Mining and Exploration's mining plans for the Chetco River here.