In the mid-1800s, Sutter Creek and Amador City were centers of the California gold rush. Now for the first time in 50 years the Mother Lode is again the scene of mechanized mining. The Sutter Gold Mining Co. operates a modern $20 million complex, complete with ventilated tunnels, laboratories and a mill. The operation employs miners, truck drivers, mechanics, technicians, geologists and engineers. They hope to unearth 680,000 ounces of gold and company president Leanne Baker, who earned a PhD in mineral economics from the Colorado School of Mines, told reporters, “We really do believe we’re making history again.” Local tourist officials are also excited, but tucked into this feel-good story is a rather sobering observation.
“It took 14 years and more than 40 permits from myriad state and federal agencies to get the mine under way,” and that was after Amador County approved the project in 1998. And “myriad” agencies is not an exaggeration. The process requires lawyers, lots of money, and fathomless patience.
The first step, after all, came 14 years ago during the Clinton administration. Not every group of entrepreneurs would wait that long to take the risks involved in mining. So the federal and state regulations have the effect of quashing economic activity, not the proper role of government. If things are to happen faster government regulators need to get out of the way, and remarkably enough they sometimes do.
On March 15, 2007 in Sacramento a 1,500-foot railroad trestle burned down, severing a line to the busy Port of Oakland. Union Pacific crews rebuilt the trestle in 12 days and freight was rolling a month ahead of schedule because local regulators decided not to require special permits. The California Department of Transportation allowed Union Pacific to use oversize trucks to transport building materials and the California Department of Fish and Game waived the requirement for a stream-bed alteration permit.
Government should stand aside more often and allow construction of new refineries, natural gas ports and mines. In the economically depressed Golden State, it shouldn’t take 14 years and myriad permits just to start one.