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Mining Moratorium Bill Would Kill Oregon’s Gold Mining Industry

The future of mining in Oregon is at risk with the introduction of Senate Bill 838, which would declare a four year moratorium on suction dredge mining in Oregon’s riverbeds. The purpose of this lengthy ban on mining is to allow the Governor’s office “to study certain issues related to mining using motorized equipment.”

Quoting the bill text: “A moratorium is imposed until January 2, 2018, on mining that uses any form of motorized equipment to extract gold, silver or any other precious mineral from placer deposits of the beds of the waters of this state, as defined in ORS 196.800, or that results in the removal or disturbance of streamside vegetation in a manner that may impact water quality.”

The bill was introduced in April 2013 by the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, chaired by Senator Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland). This committee has been very actively pursuing environmental causes this session, including the recently signed-into-law SB692 Energy Efficiency Standards bill. They also are no stranger to targeting Oregon’s mining industry.

During the 2013 Regular Session, the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources and its members have penned no less than four separate bills that would negatively impact Oregon miners. WatchdogWire covered this story back in March, when miners from across the state rallied on the steps of the Oregon Capitol to protest the threat to their livelihood.

In particular, Senate Bill 115, for all intents and purposes the predecessor to current the SB838, was proposed by the same committee. That bill would have banned suction dredging entirely.

Joseph Greene is a former EPA researcher. After leaving the agency, he has worked to uncover the misinformation being presented by members of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources regarding suction dredge mining and Oregon’s waterways. Greene spoke with WatchdogWire at a meeting of the Oregon Citizen’s Lobby.

After Senate Bill 115 stalled in mid-January of 2013, Greene said, Senate Bill 838 was drafted and introduced. The Committee changed their approach from a permanent ban of placer mining to a four year moratorium. However, the same result is achieved.

SB838 “adds a four year moratorium which would basically destroy the industry,” Greene said.

Greene pointed out that a major connecting factor between each of these bills is Senator Alan Bates (D-Medford). Bates himself has a history of pursuing anti-mining legislation as well, Greene said, despite having a personal and legislative history in the Medford area, a gold-rich region with a long history of mining. Greene stated that Bates is strongly against mining in the area due to his desire to protect the environment.

Bates also has a history of working with former Senator Jason Atkinson (R-Center Point), a Medford native. The two co-sponsored the failed Senate Bill 765 back in 2011, which would have “[created] offense of practicing recreational dredge mining without license. Punishes by maximum of 30 days’ imprisonment,$1,250 fine, or both.”

In an interview with the Oregonian discussing SB838, Bates defended his strong positions.

“My bottom line is that I want to see those streams and rivers protected,” he said. “If there’s some middle ground, that’s fine, but right now, I haven’t seen that middle ground yet.”

Greene, however, doesn’t believe that Bates’ attempts to protect the environment from miners are at all necessary or justified.

“It’s totally bogus, because California just spent 1.2 million dollars on a small-scale gold suction dredge environmental impact report and they published it in 2012 and the results of that are basically that this industry’s effect on the environment is less than significant. So then now they’re going to stick out a bill to say that we’ve got to stop it for four years so we can study it, that’s nonsense.”

He also referenced a study done by Peter B. Bayley, an Associate Professor at the Dept. Fisheries & Wildlife at Oregon State University. He said that Bayley did a cumulative study over good and bad miners and multiple dredges in the Siskiyou National Forest, testing the effect of suction dredge mining on young of the year, and found that there was no measurable effect.

Citing this evidence, and pointing back once again to the legislation sponsored by the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, Greene emphasized the lack of scientific backing behind the claims that suction dredge mining is detrimental to Oregon waterways.

“What they’re offering has nothing to do with saving the environment,” he said.

Greene identified the major difference between the philosophies of Atkinson and Bates and his own philosophies as an environmentalist.

“They are very obviously environmentally oriented, and I don’t mind that since we’re both environmentalists, we both spent our life making a living in the environmental industry, but they choose to do whatever they can to eliminate individuals from the environment rather than working with allowing individuals to use the environment in a safe and responsible manner.”

SB838 was assigned to a subcommittee on natural resources on Friday, June 21st. WatchdogWire will continue to monitor the bill and provide updates as it navigates the legislature.

 

 

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