Recently in Mining Category

New Law Allows Mining Operators to Remedy Compliance Issues and Retain AB 3098 List Status

April 9, 2014

by Kerry Shapiro

This article was first published in The Conveyor, a publication of the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association.

Mining companies are subject to myriad requirements under the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) and implementing regulations that can trip up even the most diligent of operators from time to time. When a potential violation occurs, SMARA holds that either the lead agency or the Department of Conservation (read OMR) may initiate enforcement proceedings by issuing a notice of violation (NOV). All too often, the process results in an order to comply issued against the operator, which in turn can jeopardize the operator's AB 3098 List eligibility. Removal from the AB 3098 List forecloses an operator's ability to sell materials to State and/or local agencies, often a major component of many operators' customer bases.

Enter SB 447. Under this new CalCIMA-driven legislation operators can maintain AB 3098 List eligibility while working to resolve enforcement issues required by an order to comply, and may now also negotiate the terms of, and stipulate to, such an order. These are called stipulated orders to comply.

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SB 1270 Proposes Significant California Mining Reform

March 7, 2014

by Kerry Shapiro, Esq. and Scott Castro, Esq.

The recent submittal of significant proposed revisions to California's mining law, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act ("SMARA"), signals potentially broad-reaching changes to the statute. On February 21, 2014, Senator Fran Pavely (D) introduced SB 1270, a bill proposing to overhaul various sections of SMARA. SB 1270 proposes fundamental changes to SMARA. Click here for a copy of SB 1270.

If these changes go through, mine owners and operators will be subject to a new regulatory system under which the State will assume a far greater and centralized role in various aspects of SMARA, including mine inspections, enforcement, and establishment of financial assurance mechanisms. The mining industry also faces the likely prospect of increased carrying costs, arising from such proposals as changes to the annual reporting fee structure (proposed at a minimum of $1,000/year on a per-acre basis, and with no maximum cap), to increased ability to appeal decisions relating to the State's "3098" list.

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Ninth Circuit Ruling in Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar Creates Tension Between Federal and California Law Regarding Idle Mines and Interim Management Plans

February 15, 2013

by Kerry Shapiro

As reported earlier this week in this blog, the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar allowed a uranium mine on federal lands in Arizona to re-open after being idled for seventeen years absent any new federal approval or supplemental environmental review. This decision is notable on its own, but carries added significance in California, where it now highlights a potential conflict between federal and state law regarding idle mines and the resumption of mining operations at such mines.

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Mining Lawyer: SB 108, A first step in solving the interim management plan problem (Part 3)

October 19, 2011

Kerry Shapiro

This three-part blog series on California SB 108, a bill which changes provisions in the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (SMARA) pertaining to "idle" mines, is based on a paper I first presented at the CalCIMA Conference in October 2011. If you have not yet read part one which gives background on the Interim Management Plan problem, or part two which discusses what SB 108 does and who it affects, you will want read those first.

SB 108: Unresolved Problems and Ideas to Address Them

  1. Application to Active Mines. It is arguably inappropriate to designate as "idle" an operation that is generating returns that seem adequate to support continuing operation and defray ultimate reclamation costs. One solution might be to establish a minimum annual quantity of production as a so-called "safe harbor" to qualify a mine as "active" without regard to changes in historical production level. After all, why should a mine be classified as "idle" simply because it now produces less than it used to? Future legislation could establish a minimum quantity of annual production as a "safe harbor" from classifications of "idle" or "abandoned."

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Mining Lawyer: SB 108, A first step in solving the interim management plan problem (Part 2)

October 17, 2011

Kerry Shapiro

This three-part blog series on California SB 108, a bill which changes provisions in the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (SMARA) pertaining to "idle" mines, is based on a paper I first presented at the CalCIMA Conference in October 2011. If you have not yet read part one of this three-part series, which gives background on the Interim Management Plan problem, you will want read that first.

SB 108: What it Does

Revised Definition of "Idle": SB 108 addresses only one of the substantive issues discussed above, by changing the current definition of "Idle" in SMARA Section 2727.1 to look at the curtailment of production by more than 90 percent of the maximum annual production within any of the last five years, rather than by more than 90 percent of the previous historical maximum annual production. See SB 108 (a copy is attached to this paper). This avoids some of the record problems discussed above and likely limits the
number of operations falling within the definition of idle.

Additional Renewals of IMPs: Currently SMARA allows for renewal of an IMP for an additional 5-year period. SB 108 clarifies that an IMP may be renewed for additional 5-year periods at the expiration of each 5-year period. SMARA Section 2770(h)(2)(A)

Limited Window to Change Mine Status: Although not a substantive change to address the overall IMP problem, perhaps the most significant and practical benefit of SB 108 is the change of status provision. SB 108 adds new SMARA Section 2777.5, to authorize operators to file amended annual reports for prior years in order to revise mineral production or to change mine status from active to idle. One impact of this is to allow mine operators that may have failed to timely file an IMP in prior years (and thus could be subject to claims by OMR of abandonment notwithstanding resumption of production in subsequent years) to either correct production numbers for prior years (thereby avoiding claims of past idleness and failure to prepare a timely IMP) or to properly identify, i.e., change the status of the mine as having been idle in prior years and allow for the filing of a "retrospective" or "late" IMP (thereby avoiding potential claims of abandonment).

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Mining Lawyer: SB 108, A first step in solving the interim management plan problem (Part 1)

October 14, 2011

Kerry Shapiro

This three-part blog series on California SB 108, a bill which changes provisions in the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (SMARA) pertaining to "idle" mines, is based on a paper I first presented at the CalCIMA Conference in October 2011.

Background: What is the Interim Management Plan Problem?

SB 108 is designed to address some (but not all) of the problems existing in the current SMARA statutory scheme regulating so-called "idle" mines through the requirement of submitting an interim management plan ("IMP"). Having passed though the legislature without a single no vote, the bill was signed by Governor' Jerry Brown on October 5, 2011 will be effective on January 1, 2012. This presentation identifies the problems with the current regulation of idle mines though IMP requirements, explains SB 108, including its key terms and the limited window for mine operators to take advantages of SB 108's "change of status" provisions, and finally identifies IMP problems not addressed by SB 108 and proposes ideas for addressing such problems.

Continue reading "Mining Lawyer: SB 108, A first step in solving the interim management plan problem (Part 1)" »