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Suction dredge miners got a reprieve when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation that would have de-funded the court-ordered environmental plan needed before the practice could potentially resume.
Budget language passed by both state houses in May would have extended the current moratorium on the practice for five years, or until the Department of Fish and Game could come up with a plan to mitigate all the environmental impacts and a way to pay for program costs, estimated to be at least $2 million a year, a figure mining advocates dispute.
But the budget language also prohibited the department from spending any money to develop such a plan.
Brown said he was vetoing the bill “to ensure the Department is not in violation of the court order.” Brown offered mining advocates no assurances. “Fish and Game can now finish working on the environmental impact report and associated regulations, though the resumption of dredging is not assured.”
“The governor saw through the budget trick that was going to kill off this industry and didn’t stand for it,” said state Sen. Ted Gaines, who has been a supporter of the mining practice.
But even Gaines had to admit the contingent nature of the development. “With the funding now in place, DFG can complete the required study and potentially implement new regulations that will end the moratorium.”
A bill currently making its way through the Assembly could throw a wrench into the dredge. It would add new requirements to the California Environmental Quality Act and could potentially impose a five-year ban on suction dredging.
Gaines, whose district includes Plumas County, called the proposed new requirements “unattainable” and vowed to “see this through to the end.”
The current moratorium stems from a lawsuit, spearheaded by the Karuk tribe, which argued that the practice was harming fish habitat by churning up pollutants, such as mercury, deposited in streambeds by a century and a half of mining activity.
The moratorium went into effect in 2009, when the Legislature passed a bill temporarily banning suction dredge mining on all California lakes and rivers until the court-ordered environmental review could be completed.
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