Joint Committees of the Idaho Legislature listened to group supporting suction dredge mining.
Posted 2-5-14 Editor’s Note: This topic is extremely complex. Follow-up articles will attempt to further explain the background issues, scientific studies, and perspectives involved. There is link for a video of this hearing just made available and is at the end of this article.
In Boise on Monday, February 3, the Joint Committees of the Idaho State Legislature on Environment (Conservation) and Resources listened to an ad hoc group in support of small suction dredge mining in Idaho. A grassroots coalition of local suction dredge miners and their supporters in Riggins petitioned local State Representative Paul Shepherd for help when the US Environmental Protection Agency last spring issued new rules effectively banning all small scale suction dredge mining in the road access area of the main Salmon River near Riggins. Representative Shepherd was able to secure the hearing in front of both the Idaho House and the Senate Committees.
The meeting was scheduled for one hour and included four speakers and several comments from the audience at large which numbered about 200 people. The presentation presented a litany of points criticizing the EPA ruling including its legality. The first speaker was Joe Greene who presented himself as a “life-long environmentalist” who is a retired research biologist and had worked years for the EPA. His presentation included slides with photos and references to past impact studies done by government agencies. He referenced EPA and other government studies from 1994 and 2000, a USFS 2004 report, and a California Fish and Wildlife court ordered report that all concluded a “less than significant impact” was made in streams and rivers by small scale suction mining.
Greene addressed the turbidity debate in reference to the plume of material that comes from the sluice box of a suction dredge. He argued that the ‘effect of scale” with small dredges does not exceed the turbidity ratings that qualify as a pollutant—especially on the large Salmon River in the Riggins area. He also argues that the dredges do not introduce a pollutant since they are picking up gravel and sand on the bottom and almost immediately deposit them back several feet away. No outside substance has been introduced. He argued that dredging impacted gravels can improve stream beds for fish and invertebrates. Also, introduced lead, mercury, and trash from other sources are actually removed by the miner.
Greene described the rules imposed by the EPA as “mission creep” that over-regulate and go beyond what the acts of congress stipulated for the EPA. He pointed out that the EPA is claiming that suction dredges introduce a pollutant without legally or scientifically determining that this is actually the case. He argued that the new permits required by the EPA for all suction dredge mining in Idaho under the Clean Water Act called NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permits were designed for large scale projects and other entities that may introduce pollution into water ways and was never intended for something like small scale dredge mining that introduces no pollutant.
In the case of the Salmon River around Riggins, the EPA removed this section of river from consideration and no NPDES permits are available from the EPA. This bans all small scale suction dredge mining in the Riggins area under the penalty of a NPDES permit violation which includes large fines and possible jail time.
The next speaker was Tom Kitcher, President of Oregon’s Waldo Mining District that has existed since 1852. Kitcher argued that the EPA has misinterpreted the Clean Water Act. The two sections of the act that apply in this case are 404 and 402. To be brief, he argued that one or the other can only can be legally applied to a situation but not both and this was determined in a US Supreme Court ruling. Again the final argument was reduced to the key words “no addition” of pollutants which means the rules for applying NPDES permits do not exist for small scale suction dredges, and this was not the intent of the 1977 Clean Water Act.
The next speaker was Doug Giddings who introduced himself as the Idaho County Sheriff for the past five years. Giddings argued that federal agencies make rules and regulations that become heavy handed. He said the rules are arbitrary and do not come from the way he was raised nor from local people. He explained that for federal government agencies science goes either way and their ideology makes rules to fit their beliefs.
He said federal law enforcement doesn’t communicate with his department and he and the people of Idaho County have no way to know the rules and regulations the federal government wants to enforce. Federal agents are not elected and don’t answer to the people, he said. They only answer to their boss. He said inspectors can visit sites and in the mail later can come a citation for rules that aren’t clearly defined. He said the changing regulations are designed to get us out of the forests and out of the river. He said Jet boats and fisherman would be next to be regulated out by the EPA.
He admitted regulation was needed but not the federal “heavy handed” ones that want to control the “ignorant masses.” He said Idaho County people find it “insulting and demeaning when they make rules we have to abide by” and have no say in those rules. Sheriff Giddings said his job is to “represent the people” and try and stop “any violation for the citizens of my county when their constitutioanal rights are violated.”
The next speaker was Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik. He stated environmental groups promote “radical ideas (that) are destroying our way of life.” He said our country was based on “natural law” and that EPA rules were made by rule of rules and not law. He said they ruled by “intimidation and fear.” He said that environmental policy has severely limited and destroyed the economy of Idaho County. He continued that these issues were about freedom and liberty, and these dredgers have the right to do it just as much as anyone else has the right to do their activity.
Several citizen speakers followed relating how they were accused of being criminals for exercising their rights and how they have been doing this very same thing for years with no repercussions. One said he was threatened with fines of $50,000 and three years in jail. One by the name of Roger Jorsted (sp?) said the tactic in play in this new ruling is called “sue and settle.” He claimed this was employed by the Idaho Conservation League when they threatened to sue the EPA over small suction dredge mining. He lamented that now where it is legal to suction dredge mine in Idaho, it requires a 44 page application process were previously it only require a much smaller application with the state and now the chances of getting the permit is greatly reduced.
The hearing ended at the end of an hour due to scheduled time restraints. Outcomes for the grassroots coalition from this hearing will be reported in a future article here.
A link to a video for this hearing follows. First one has to download it to a location on your hard drive and then play it by clicking that file. I have updated this article based on my review comparing it to my limited note taking ability. It takes a while to download, so please be patient:
– See more at: http://riversandmountains.biz/joint-committees-of-the-idaho-legislature-listened-to-group-supporting-suct-p614-90.htm#sthash.teeoi1X5.dpuf