California’s State Mining and Geology Board had a busy 2017 with ongoing rulemakings to implement SMARA reform enacted in 2016. The Board’s 2018 will be busy and one to closely watch too, in particular, because the Board plans to address the unintended environmental consequences created by the adoption fifteen years ago of what is known as the “Backfill Regulation.”
For those who fled California in the wake of the Backfill Regulation, here’s a quick refresher on why you packed your bags and haven’t returned. The Backfill Regulation has two key requirements for open pit metallic mineral mines. First, the regulation requires all open pit excavations to be backfilled to the original surface elevation. Second, any excess material must be graded with the resulting topography not to exceed the pre-mining surface elevation by more than 25 feet.
Overall, the Backfill Regulation has been bad news for the California mining industry and the environment as explained in this February 2016 Update on the Regulatory Environment for Metallic Mines in California. In a nutshell, the Backfill Regulation requires moving material twice (increasing GHG emissions), fails to address the proper storage and handling of waste materials (jeopardizing water quality), and can cause greater ground disturbances (impacting habitat for sensitive species).