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Miners Group Urges Reversal of California Mining Ruling

by William Perry Pendley, Mountain States Legal Foundation 3/10/17

March 8, 2017 – DENVER, CO. A 122-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members that filed a friend of the court brief before the California Supreme Court in defense of a miner charged with violating the State’s criminal prohibition against suction dredge mining today urged the Supreme Court of the United States to review the ruling of that court that the federal mining law does not preempt California’s ban on suction dredge mining. The American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA), formerly the Northwest Mining Association (NWMA) of Spokane, Washington, sought to appear in defense of the criminal charges against Brandon Lance Rinehart arguing that California law violates the Supremacy Clause. Mr. Rinehart, a small miner who owns placer mining claims in the Plumas National Forest, was convicted after his affirmative defense that the ban adopted by California is unconstitutional and expert testimony to support his defense were rejected by the trial court.

“We are gravely disappointed because, for over 150 years, United States policy has been to encourage and facilitate exploration and development of the nation’s minerals on federal land; suction dredge mining is the only way to explore for and develop Mr. Rinehart’s minerals, thus the ban is unconstitutional and frustrates the express intent of Congress,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF); MSLF represents the AEMA.

In August of 2009, California imposed a moratorium on instream suction dredge mining in the state, and barred the California Department of Fish and Wildlife from issuing any new suction dredge permits to operators.

On August 30, 2012, the District Attorney of Plumas County filed a criminal complaint charging Mr. Rinehart with a violation of California’s criminal code, alleging that he used suction dredge equipment in a river, stream, or lake, without a permit and that he possessed a suction dredge within an area closed to the use of that equipment.

Mr. Rinehart admitted to using suction dredge equipment on his claims but argued that the California law was preempted by federal law. He waived his right to a jury trial and made an offer of proof, to wit, expert testimony that the only commercially viable means of extracting his minerals is by suction dredge mining.

In May of 2013, the district court conducted the trial, found Mr. Rinehart guilty of the criminal charges, ruled the ban was constitutional, and excluded the expert testimony. In September of 2014, the California Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of the district court. In November of 2014, California filed a Petition for Review of the Court of Appeal’s decision with the California Supreme Court. Over the objections of Mr. Rinehart, on January 21, 2015, the California Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

For more information:  People v. Rinehart




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