The Modernization of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act: Is it Necessary?

Written by Crystal Howard.

Mining is an essential part of California’s economy and history. The state’s mineral wealth was responsible for its rapid growth and continued development. Regulation of the state’s mining industry began in 1975 with the adoption of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA). A number of amendments have strengthened its protections, but increased regulatory burdens have raised the bar for access to all but the largest producers.

Like the Legendary Phoenix, SB 1270 Has Risen from the Ashes

On May 23, 2014, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) reform bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1270 (Pavley), did not make it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, thus killing the bill for this session. However, like the phoenix, the legendary Arabian bird, SB 1270 rose from the ashes in June by Senate leadership through a rule waiver. The new version of the bill includes further amendments; however, the changes do not address many of the issues that negatively impact the industry. SB 1270 is a toxic bill drafted with the intent to transfer SMARA authority to the State, substantially increase fees to the industry, and create several mandatory provisions that would result in further cost increases and uncertainty within the mining industry. We also suspect that the change in annual fees is an attempt to funnel money to The Sierra Fund to facilitate remediation of a number of legacy metal mines.

Mineral Resource Conservation: SMARA’s Second Leg

California became a state because of its mineral wealth. People from around the world flocked to the gold fields of central California and turned over the earth in the promise of riches to come. Small towns sprouted up and a continuous stream of people flowed into the state. The gold rush lasted a few years and, what had been a geographically isolated area on the west coast of North America, was suddenly home to 300,000 residents.

The Mineral Resource Industry Has Positive Impact on California Economy

California’s mineral resource industry is being threatened by the recent introduction of Senate Bill 1270 (Pavley). This proposed legislation will radically alter the balance between mineral resource production and regulatory oversight.

The mineral resource industry, such as construction aggregate, in California is essential to the State’s economy. It provides the materials needed to build and maintain roads, bridges, homes and commercial buildings, as well as provide jobs for thousands of Californians.

CMTA Opposes Surface Mining Bill

Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) is the author of SB 1270 which changes the oversight of the California Geological Survey and the requirements for surface mining operations. It also requires annual reporting fees on each mine. The bill is presumably an effort to fix implementation issues with a unique statewide mandate on local land use policies regarding reclamation from mineral extraction facilities.

SB 1270: The Cart Before the Horse?

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.

SB 1270, SMARA Reform Bill: What is Changing and How will it Impact You?

This analysis provides an overview of the proposed changes to the California Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) which are presented in Senate Bill 1270 (Pavley). Senator Fran Pavely of Senate District 27 is carrying the bill. District 27 covers Malibu, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark and parts of Santa Clarita and the San Fernando Valley. Sen. Pavley is also the Chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water. The bill is sponsored by the Sierra Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the Sierra Nevada and they are located in Nevada City, California.

Lead Agency Fees for Administration of SMARA Programs

EnviroMINE conducted a survey of lead agencies to determine the amount each charge to implement their Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (SMARA) program. SMARA requires lead agencies review proposed mining applications for land use permits and/or reclamation plans (or amendments thereto), submit reclamation plans and financial assurances to the State for technical review and comment prior to approval, annually review financial assurances, annually inspect mining operations for compliance, and take enforcement actions where necessary. Section §2207(e) of SMARA indicates the lead agency may impose a fee upon each mining operation to cover the reasonable costs incurred by implementing the program.