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Bill to Allow More Suction Dredge Gold Mining in Idaho Rivers Stopped for Now

Expansion of suction dredge gold mining failed to get approval Tuesday from the Idaho House Resource and Conservation Committee. (Idaho Conservation League)

Expansion of suction dredge gold mining failed to get approval Tuesday from the Idaho House Resource and Conservation Committee. (Idaho Conservation League)
February 24, 2016

BOISE, Idaho - A victory for conservation advocates as a bill to lift all state regulation on small scale suction dredge gold mining in Idaho died Tuesday in the House Resources and Conservation Committee.

As written, the bill, HB 510, would have opened more than 80,000 miles of streams in Idaho to year-round unregulated dredge mining.

Michael Gibson, Idaho field coordinator for the outdoors advocacy group Trout Unlimited, says this type of mining kills fish eggs and can poison fish, birds and even humans.

"Suction dredging has a lot of detrimental effects to streams," he says. "Digging up mercury and other heavy metals that are trapped in sediment and moving those into the food chain."

Gibson says the mercury in the sediment is likely left over from historical mining operations. Gold currently sells for more than $1,200 an ounce.

The Idaho Conservation League estimates there are around 1,000 dredge miners in the Gem State.

Gibson says the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has asked the EPA for control over the program that regulates what's called "point source discharge" pollution and a decision to de-regulate suction dredge gold mining could scuttle any agreement.

"They would probably not transfer that authority if the state of Idaho were designating something that they classify as a point-source discharge as not being a pollution source," says Gibson.

The rivers favored by suction dredge gold miners include the Salmon River and the south fork of the Clearwater and Snake rivers.

The committee left open the possibility of reconsidering the bill in the future.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - ID