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California Supreme Court Upholds State Law Restrictions Against Suction Dredge Mining In Waters on Federal Land

The California Supreme Court ruled in People v. Rinehart, ___Cal.4th___, Case No. S222620 (Cal. Aug. 22, 2016), that California state laws restricting the practice of suction dredge mining are not preempted by federal mining laws, and that states can regulate mining practices for environmental protection purposes, including for the protection of fish populations and water quality.

The California Supreme Court reversed the decision of the California Court of Appeal and ruled that neither the Federal Mining Act of 1872 nor the Federal Surface Resources and Multiple Use Act preempted California’s suction dredging restrictions or moratorium. The Court explained that the United States Constitution vests Congress with the power to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and that, unlike the Commerce Clause, the Property Clause has no prohibitive effect when dormant.

While grounded, in part, on statutory and case law that is well over 100 years old, People v. Rinehart raises new and significant questions regarding the extent to which states may regulate mining practices on federal land. Only time and the implementation of further regulations will tell. If the historical pattern of California’s regulation of mining, water, and fish repeats itself, those outer limits will likely again be tested in court. The Court’s decision is accessible online at:

(Derek Hoffman, Michael Duane Davis)