Henry and Sherman: California Takes Steps to Address Unintended Environmental Consequences of Mining Regulation

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Mining attorneys Tom Henry and Michael Sherman authored an article for MINING.com titled “Unintended environmental consequences of mining regulation being addressed in California,” published March 27, 2018. The article discusses steps initiated in California to revise the state’s current backfill regulation applying to the reclamation of open pit metallic mineral mines, which has severely restricted metallic mineral mining since its adoption in 2002.

The backfill regulation was originally adopted by the California State Mining and Geology Board (“Board”) as an emergency measure likely intended to halt a mining project that was unpopular in California. The California Legislature acted in 2003 to adopt similar changes to the state’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act but limited the backfill requirement to only certain areas of the state. The Board’s regulation, however, continues to apply to open pits at any new metallic mineral mine in the state. The impact of the backfill regulation has been that only one new open pit metallic mineral mine has been approved in the 15 years since the regulation was adopted.

Late last year, the Board voted to review the backfill regulation after hearing public comments as to why the regulation has increased, rather than reduced, environmental impacts associated with mining. The Board and the State Division of Mine Reclamation will hold several public meetings in 2018, and the Board is expected to adopt regulations to the regulation later in the year.

The authors state: “In effect, the present requirements have elevated aesthetic concerns above all other impacts and effectively prevented agencies from approving alternatives that scientific analysis indicates would result in fewer environmental impacts.”

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