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Supreme Court will not hear Calif. suction dredge mining suit

Siskiyou Daily News – by David Smith

The United States Supreme Court has effectively killed a lawsuit aimed at reversing California’s rules regarding suction dredge mining in the state.

The suit was filed by a miner by the name of Brandon Rinehart, who appealed his 2012 conviction for using suction dredging equipment without a permit and using said equipment within 100 yards of a waterway closed to suction dredging by the state. 

Suction dredge mining – a form of mineral extraction that uses a vacuum-type extension to remove streambed materials from a waterway to filter out valuable minerals such as gold – has been under a moratorium in California since 2009.

Rinehart argued in his appeal that the provisions of the federal Mining Act of 1872 preempt California’s ongoing moratorium on suction dredging, which Rinehart argues has operated as a de facto ban on the method of mining.

The state has been charged with developing regulations that address identified impacts of suction dredging before it can lift the moratorium, which was prompted by a lawsuit initiated against the state by a number of tribal and environmental groups.

San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Gilbert Ochoa issued a ruling in 2015 indicating that Rinehart’s argument had merit – but the California Superior Court quashed that with its own ruling in 2016.

Last year, Rinehart asked the United States Supreme Court to review the case, but that court issued a notice on Monday stating that it will not grant the request.

The notice provides the names of cases that will and will not be heard by the court, but does not provide insight or explanation into why – a common practice with such requests.

While the court does not explain its stance on hearing the case, President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice recently submitted a brief asking that the court not hear Rinehart’s appeal.

The DOJ’s brief points to the California Supreme Court’s ruling, in which the court found that the Mining Act of 1872 does not preclude states from imposing permitting requirements and environmental regulations on mining.

“And after reviewing the Mining Act’s history and the contemporaneous state regulation of mining activities – including California’s prohibition on hydraulic mining – the court found no support for petitioner’s contention that Congress sought ‘to confer a right to mine, immune in whole or in part from curtailment by regulation,’” the brief reads.

The DOJ argues that the case does not warrant review by the U.S. Supreme Court for a number of reasons, including its contention that California’s regulations are in line with federal law, and that the California Supreme Court’s ruling does not conflict with any other court’s ruling on the matter.

A number of other suction dredge related cases – from civil suits to misdemeanor charges against miners who returned to suction dredging after Ochoa’s ruling – have been on hold in anticipation of a resolution in Rinehart’s case.

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