SB 1270: The Cart Before the Horse?

Written by Crystal Howard.

Senate Bill 1270 (Pavley) proposes significant reforms of the California Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA). SMARA regulates surface mining in California, requiring each operation to have an approved Reclamation Plan, Land Use Permit, and Financial Assurance before extraction can commence. Authority for the implementation of SMARA is split between local lead agencies and the Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR), a division of the California Department of Conservation (DOC). Local lead agencies are in charge of implementing the program in their jurisdiction by approving or denying reclamation plans, financial assurances, land use permits and for conducting annual mine inspections. OMR serves in an oversight or an advisory role to the lead agencies. SB 1270 would remove a portion of the lead agency’s authorities and transfer these to the State.

On August 28, 2013 a Special Review Panel (SRP) was initiated by the Director of the DOC to complete an objective and systematic examination of the internal operations of OMR. Thirty days later, September 28, 2013, Senate Bill 447 (Lara) provided a requirement in §2773.1 (c) (1-10) that the DOC shall submit to the legislature by January 1, 2018, a report on the activities and status of SMARA conformance. A final report from the SRP was issued to the Director on January 24, 2014. This report focused on OMR’s mission and objectives; its regulatory function; organization and staffing; and management and control systems. In most of the areas evaluated, the Panel indicated a need for significant improvement. In the concluding remarks, the report states “there are significant changes that will need to be implemented in the near future in order to propel OMR into an effective State agency with the trust and respect of their customers.”

SB 1270 transfers a significant amount of responsibilities to OMR, however, the SRP report clearly indicates OMR is NOT performing its regulatory functions in the most efficient manner. So the question arises, why give an inefficient agency more responsibilities?

Considering the legislature’s requirement provided in SB 447, and the recent review of OMR, is SB 1270 putting the cart before the horse? It would seem that a more sensible approach would be to give OMR the time to resolve its in-house issues first and provide the report to the legislature in 2018 as required by SB 447. If the results of the investigation indicate that OMR has not responded to this direction, perhaps a legislative fix may be necessary. Until OMR is given the chance to improve its performance, SMARA reform is not warranted.

Crystal Howard is an economist and market analyst for EnviroMINE, Inc.