Oregon Law Review : Vol. 90, No. 1, p. 335-358 : Muddying the Waters of Clean Water Act Permitting: NEDC Reconsidered
Dahab, Nadia H.
Two related sections of the Clean Water Act have recently received attention in the Oregon courts—and not without considerable confusion. These Clean Water Act sections allow certain pollutant discharges into Oregon’s waterways, and the recent litigation has raised questions about their application to local mining operations. Gold mining has a long history in the western United States, and Oregon is no exception. Since the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, prospectors have scoured the West for precious metals, laying claim to their “right to mine” under the General Mining Act of 1872. In recent years, recreational prospectors have begun using modern small suction dredges, a more accessible and lower-impact alternative to large dredging equipment, to search for the precious minerals on federal lands. Yet even small suction dredge mining is known to taint streams with toxins, disrupt wildlife habitats, and, ultimately, impact human health. Environmentalists have opposed the practice for years. In Oregon, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center has been fighting state regulations that permit small suction dredge mining practices since the state issued the regulations in 1997. Within the past two years, after California passed a statewide moratorium prohibiting the activity, small suction dredge mining on Oregon streams has become particularly popular, and its impacts particularly noteworthy.
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