California’s ban on the use of suction dredges to extract gold from rivers is legal and not overridden by a 19th century federal law that allows mining on federal land, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The court’s unanimous decision was a victory for environmentalists and a blow to miners, who argued that the ban essentially stopped gold mining because doing it by hand is labor-intensive and makes the enterprise unprofitable.
Environmentalists say suction dredge mining risks killing fish and stirring up toxic mercury.
The high court’s ruling came in an appeal of a criminal case in which miner Brandon Rinehart was convicted of a misdemeanor for suction dredge mining without a permit in 2012 and sentenced to three years’ probation.
Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar, writing for the court, said the federal Mining Law of 1872 did not guarantee a right to mine free from regulation.
Instead, its goal was to protect miners’ property rights involving the federal land to which they laid claim, she said.