By Izzy Martin, The Sierra Fund CEO
NEVADA CITY, 15 March 2012 – The Sierra Fund has been very active recently in the California State Capitol to educate members and their staff about the impact of abandoned mines on the state, and reforms needed to protect people, water quality and fish.
Over the last month The Sierra Fund participated in a legislative briefing at the State Capitol, spoke to community college classes, led staff from the national Sierra Club on a tour, met with the Directors of key departments, testified at a State Water Resources Control Board meeting on proposed regulations for mercury in California reservoirs, met with Senators’, Assemblymembers’ and Governor’s staff, and talked to lots of miners.
Just a few of our activities:
Suction Dredge regulations released and comments submitted: On February 17 the California Department of Fish & Game released final regulations for their suction dredge permit program, with a comment deadline just days later on March 5.
Working with allies at the Karuk Tribe, United Auburn Indian Community, Friends of the River and others we scrambled to review the regulations and submit comments. We worked with six members of the legislature – including Senators Evans, Pavely and Wolk and Assemblymembers Blumenfeld and Gordon – who as a result sent a letter to the Department of Fish & Game outlining their concerns about the new regulations.
Concerns we raised about the regulations included: the comment deadline was too short; they were released without a final Environmental Impact Report (making it harder to figure out what the impacts were); they allow suction dredge mining in waters that are known to be contaminated with mercury; they don’t even mention protection of cultural resources; and they open some waters for dredging where this activity is forbidden by other state, federal and tribal agencies. Thanks to Craig Tucker of the Karuk Tribe who coordinated the development of comments signed by us and 27 other organizations.
Mining policy reform: We continue to meet with legislative staff and members about amendments needed to the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act legislation just passed last year that impacts whether a mine is considered “idle” or “abandoned.” We believe that legislation to fix these problems is forthcoming – our goal is to make sure that any mines considered “idle” have the financial assurances and technical expertise needed to reclaim the site if and when it becomes “abandoned.”