Stop CA Senate Bill 637!   Stop the Permit Scheme!

Senate Bill 637 (SB637) would require pollution discharge permits for mining equipment that doesn't discharge anything that wasn't already there! This bill wrongly creates a "pollution discharge" permit process that is not required by small scale mining equipment which is backed up by court rulings and case law.

This bill is just another blatant attack on small scale miners to prevent suction dredge mining. Funny how the main supporter of the bill, The Sierra Fund, is the only entity allowed to suction dredge today under a special permit to clean up mercury from Lake Combie. Saying "you can't do what we do" sounds like a conflict of interests to me.

Requiring a discharge permit for equipment that doesn't discharge is like using tax dollars to make a bald man buy a comb or requiring a smog permit for my bicycle.

Stop this blatant attack on the small scale miner that is hiding behind being all about "clean water" and is written (cough, cough) by an Orange County State Senator who has ZERO mining claims in his district!

The statements on this website reflect my personal opinions and what I have learned while investigating SB637.
I have taken every possible step to support my statements by providing links and photos.

Check out the links or view the pictures and simply use your back button to return.

10/11/2015 Status: Sadly Gov Brown signed SB637 into law. Please support the right to mine groups Like PLP, The new 49'rs, Westarn Mining Alliance and AMRA as they are planning to challenge SB637 in court and will need financial help.

9/11/2015 Status: SB637 has passed the assembly floor vote and awaits Gov. Brown's signature or veto by October 11th. Please use the link below to email Gov. Brown requesting that he veto SB637.

9/9/2015 Status: On 9/8 SB637 appeared returned to the Natural Resources committee by rule 77.2 (too much amending to bill after passing all committees). That appeared to shelve the bill until at least Jan 2016. But, just at the end of the floor session and about 4 or 5 hours later, the Assembly Majority leader called for a special meeting of the NR committee just to hear SB637 for the following morning at 0930 (today 9/9) just prior to the 10am floor session. While the NR Chairman let us speak more than the usual 3 minute limit, their minds were made up and the billed passed. It goes back to the assembly floor for another vote. Please continue contacting your Assembly Members as this may be the final stop with a vote likely coming tomorrow 9/10. Use the link below to find your assembly member.

9/4/2015 Status: SB637 had its 3rd Senate reading today and passed as amended. We still don't know what the amendments were. Please contact your assembly member this long Labor Day weekend as the bill goes to an Assembly floor vote early next week. Here's a picture of the amendment vote. Focus on contacting the assembly members with the green or missing arrows as we need to sway some of them over to defeat the bill.

9/3/2015 Status: The bill was NOT voted on in the Assembly as planned. We have been told the bill has been amended for the fifth time and must be re-read in the Senate tomorrow 9/4. If passed, it goes to the Assembly for a floor vote of the full assembly next week, as early as Tuesday or Wednesday. We don't know why they are scrambling around but hope our presence has been felt. Please contact your Senator today or tonight! Use the link below to find your Senator and message them electronically. If it passes we need to swamp the assembly with messages over the weekend. You, me, WE can do this!

8/27/2015 Status: The bill, amended 4 times, cleared the assembly Appropriations committee today and is on the way to an Assembly floor vote. The bill now includes non-suction devices like high bankers, power sluices, blue bowls, gold cubes, etc.! See the 8/10/2015 update below. The floor vote must happen before September 11th so please contact your local assembly member ASAP! The contact link for Gov. Brown is just below. Feel free to share some thoughts with him!

--------------> NEW! Open letter to CA lawmakers from a small scale miner <----------------
This letter (with documentation) really sums up the truth about SB637
Open the letter, save a copy (PDF file) and feel free to share it!

Immediate Action needed: (Too Late!) Before the bill gets to a floor vote, it is urgent that ALL miners contact their Assembly members immediately and state your opposition to this unnecessary permit process. Find your assembly member by your home address---> California State Assembly & Senate Contact lookup. We found out the electronic contact only works if your address matches their district. Otherwise you may call or fax their offices! A floor vote would come in early September so please don't delay. Voice your opposition by explaining that we don't discharge! The case law and court decision examples are listed below and in the open letter above. Call, write or fax but do something if you want to help be part of the solution to stop this dreadful bill. Stress that we do not discharge, we help clean up the CA waterways, including mercury depending on location, for free. Refer them to this website where they can find the live links to the case law and court rulings.

8/10/2015 Update: Miners! If you're not pissed off yet, you're not paying attention! The latest (4th) amendment to SB637 places much of your common mining equipment under the definition of dredging equipment. DFW Code 5653 wording here This wording adds a multitude of items that you can't have within 100 yards of non-dredgable waters, EVEN if you're not dredging! How is this bill not an attack on small scale mining?? The language makes it impossible to drive your vehicle loaded for a weekend of mining without breaking the law. How can anybody drive their stuff from home to their claim without passing within 100 yards of non-dredgable waters? How can the Fed Ex or UPS guy deliver equipment to your home without becoming a law-breaker? We have already suffered a six-year shut down and can't take much more.

Fact: Small scale mining equipment does not "discharge" per several US Supreme Court cases including the well- known soup pot analogy case by Justice Ruth Bader Gingsberg. Nothing is added from outside the stream or river thus no discharge is possible. Passing river gravels through small scale mining equipment produces only "incidental fallback" (see also the Tulloch Ruling) which requires no such discharge permit or any other discharge permit. When nothing is added you have only incidental fallback which is NOT regulatable under the CWA(Clean Water Act) per case law Froebel v Meyer.

Unknown costs to the state: Since miners don't discharge, they will not need discharge permits. Saying that this SB637 permit process is self-funding is a MYTH! There is cost to set up a new state board to run this permit process and the UNKNOWN cost of enforcement and UNKNOWN cost of training the yet undefined enforcement branch to field test if pollution is taking place. This unnecessary permit scheme to keep miners off the water WILL be challenged in court wasting more tax payer dollars. Meanwhile, the communities in gold country continue to suffer the loss of business from the fewer miners headed for the hills that buy local gas, food, ice, lodging and supplies. Many small businesses in these rural communities have gone out of business due to the 6-year dredging moratorium. July 8th News Article by Senator Tom Berryhill

History: Shortly after a San Bernadino Judge ruled the state's 6-year suction dredging moratorium was an "unenforceable scheme" and overturned it, California State Senator Ben Allen introduced a “water quality” bill, SB 637. Sen Allen has District 26 in Southern California which to the best of our knowledge has ZERO federal mining claims within its boundaries making one wonder why a freshman Senator goes after small scale suction dredge miners on one of his first attempts at passing legislation. The title has been amended from water quality (dropped in two places) to “dredging” and “suction dredging permits”. The concern is that small scale miners are stirring up sediments in the rivers, streams and creeks that might contain mercury. The bill is now clearly yet another attack on small scale miners heavily supported by anti-mining environmentalists, The Sierra Fund, who happen to be the only entity allowed to dredge today under a special permit at Lake Combie. Political hypocrisy at its finest! Keep your competition sidelined while getting millions of tax dollars from the state for what the miner's pay permit fees to do and do it better.

This bill will create a costly and unnecessary “waste discharge” permit process for small miners by the State Water Control Board, in addition to the small miners dredging permit process managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife which is still in limbo after the Judge's ruling that would lift the illegal moratorium. It’s true that there is a Mercury contamination problem in various regions caused primarily by the 49’ers mining practices of the 1850’s. But, if this bill is truly about water quality, why prevent the best and most economic clean-up crew from being on the water? Modern day small scale miner’s equipment is 98% efficient at catching heavy metals. While gold is the target, lead fishing weights, bullets and Mercury commonly get captured and removed from the waterway at the same time. If miner’s are removing mercury, that’s a good thing for water quality! Let miners remove the mercury before Mother Nature blows it downstream during storm events (see bridge pictures below)!

Here is the Sierra Fund's own Science Director testifying at the Senate EQ subcommittee hearing 4/29/2015 stating that the miners cleaning up Mercury project was shut down because it was too successful. What?? But the Sierra Fund gets millions to do what miners do for free?? Lord help us all. Here is Senator Allen surprised response to the news that the miner's cleanup of Mercury was too successful. Yes, Senator, we're dissatisfied as well.

No cost to the state: Small scale suction dredge miners in recent years were asked to help clean up Mercury. The links show a Washington State Ecology Award and a webpage from the EPA website, Region 9, both showing the miner’s clean-up results were measured in pounds recovered. The EPA webpage mysteriously disappeared from the EPA the weekend before SB 637 was heard by the Senate Environmental Quality Subcommittee. But worry not, we saved copies of the page knowing it wouldn’t last long. Sadly, the main supporter of this bill, The Sierra Fund, receives millions of taxpayer dollars to “cutter” dredge Lake Combie for a Mercury cleanup pilot project and wishes to expand. The Lake Combie clean-up samples have been measured in grams of Mercury recovered. Plus, a cutter head dredge stirs up sediments more than a simple suction (vacuum) dredge. So, here’s the math question: Why does the Sierra Fund wish to shut down the miner’s? Answer: Small scale gold miners clean up more mercury than the Sierra Fund does and we pay for dredge permits to do so. There’s no cost to the taxpayer and the state gains revenues via the dredging fee process. The only logical conclusion is: Small scale miners threaten the Sierra Fund’s cushy income of millions of California tax dollars when the job could be done at no cost to the taxpayer. All the miners have been asking for is a more wide spread network of hazardous waste collection facilities to turn in the captured Mercury. If this was truly about clean water and saving taxpayer money, Senator Allen could have pulled this bill after hearing small scale mining equipment does not discharge, verbally and with documents submitted to him from the opposition. We can only conclude the bill is another agenda driven attack on small scale dredgers.

And, will these guys need a 637 permit? river people Meet a California Gold Miner:

From the Sierra Funds own reports, they admit large storm events move more sediments downstream than any other cause. We agree. One large flooding event will move more riverbed material downstream than 1000 small scale dredgers working during the dredge season. That brings us to the fish topic. Any anti-dredging website, article etc. saying that dredging destroys fish eggs in simply lying to you. Rivers and streams in California have dredging seasons that range from open all year to closed at all times based on fish spawning times. The truth is dredging loosens cemented gravels, hopefully catches some gold then the cleaned gravels fallback into the river a short distance from where they came. Again, no “discharge”, only fallback as dredging, sluicing and panning don’t add anything to the water. The results are clean loose gravels that help fish spawning and create deeper pools where fish can rest below the current waiting for a tasty meal to come along.

Documentation Submitted for Legislative Review and Analysis:

The following are documents in opposition to SB637 submitted in Binders to the Natural Resources Senate and Environmental Quality Senate Subcommittees prior to their respective SB637 Hearings and a letter of opposition submitted to the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife for legislative analysis prior to the July 14, 2015 WPW Assembly Subcommittee Meeting:
Miner's Assembled Opposition letter 7/8/15

Small scale miners:

Since many people's perception, including state legislators, of small scale miners might come from all the Alaska gold shows currently popular on TV, we’ll show you some examples of the size of our equipment. Also, while humbled that anybody thinks we can move nearly much dirt as a high water event can, included below are some pictures of what Mother Nature can really move. 

Sluice box operations in action

  Various size small scale dredges    

Mother Nature:

Now, seeing how much material miners can move vs. a single Mother Nature storm event, is it really necessary to waste tax dollars creating a permit process for equipment that doesn’t even require the permit? Seriously?

  Still believe small scale miners can disturb anywhere near what Mother Nature does every year? Watch--->  

Remember there are Supreme Court cases that ruled when nothing is added from outside the water flow, equipment like our dredges and sluices only produce "incidental fallback". No discharge! Please don’t waste millions of tax dollars funding The Sierra Fund’s lack luster Mercury clean-up performance when small scale miners can do it better, for free. Oppose SB 637 and help our efforts to get more Mercury collection sites!

© Copyright Dale Myer 2015 / Small Scale Miner since 1984

Sign the CHANGE.ORG PETITION here!   CA Miner's Stop CA Senate Bill 637 Meme collection