Wayne Heimer: Compliance or common sense? The feds and their harassment of local miners



I’ve often written about regulatory overreach by the central government.  It’s a target-rich environment, and I’m at it again.  This time I’ll limit myself to one national, several Alaskan, and a recent Fairbanks example. 

The management mantra of federal regulatory agencies is consistently, “compliance with administrative regulations.”  The challenge for Alaskans is that, too often, these administrative regulations don’t make Alaskan sense. 

Today’s big example is the federal take-over of fish and wildlife management by the feds. That one hangs on the difference between Alaska’s Constitution and the federal interpretation of a land control law known as ANILCA. 

Alaska’s Constitution says Alaska can’t discriminate against anyone because of where they live. The federal law (ANILCA) says “rural residents” have priority use of fish and game on federal public lands. The issue is more about semantic compliance with legal definitions than actually providing fish and game use opportunities for Alaskans.  There’s a current move to change Alaska’s Constitution to  allow this discrimination.

On a slightly smaller level, the now-several-years-old National Park Service ranger abuse of Central resident Jim Wilde happened because the feds mistakenly thought their ANILCA-inferred “administrative interest” in Alaska’s navigable water turned Alaska’s water into federal public land. Jim Wilde paid the price. 

Next, Alaskan John Sturgeon got sucked into that same administrative whirlpool, and took it to the U.S. Supreme Court — twice — at a cost of about $7 million dollars. He won unanimous decisions both times. 

Alaska’s water isn’t federal public land, and never was. Nevertheless, the feds still pretend it is (see the ongoing Kuskokwim salmon case). Also, activist federal Judge Sharon Gleason agrees the feds can do whatever they want (Kake ‘food security’ decision). 

The state must appeal those word-parsed administrative decisions.

On the local level, the federal Mining Safety and Health Administration is moving to force administrative compliance by local miner with a leased claim near the original Felix Pedro strike on the Steese Highway. MSHA exists to make mining safe for miners. Sounds noble, so what’s the overreach problem? Because of conflicting MSHA regulations, our local Fairbanks miner got cross-threaded with MSHA because he’s only a one-man operation. That means he technically has no employees. MSHA regulations require safe working environments for employees. This fellow has none. He works alone, and has successfully mined alone for 30 years.

So, when an MSHA inspector showed up at his mine to assure compliance with safety regulations relevant to big mines with employees, our miner was working alone behind a locked gate on his leased ground. When told he had to comply with inspection regulations, our miner explained he had no employees, and asked why MSHA was inspecting him when he, alone, is responsible for his personal safety. The inspector cited an “anonymous complaint.” 

The local miner’s requests for proof of legal authority didn’t go down well with the MSHA inspector. 

Even though you can drive to his claim on the Steese Highway, inspectors landed on his claim with a helicopter two weeks later. Inspectors found cracked windows in his “dozer” (limiting visibility, they said), no “life ring” on a post near his pond, and no acceptable access to first aid kit. There were also some “unsafe” drive sprocket shields on factory-purchased equipment, as well as a couple of minor uncertified Alaskan problem-solving solutions. 

In spite of our miner asking how he could back his dozer over himself while operating it or throw a flotation ring to himself if he fell into his pond, the MSHA inspectors wrote him up, got into their helicopter, flew away, and summoned our miner to court for a hefty fine. 

Why? Noncompliance.

It turns out our local miner was “whipsawed” because he thought he could read and practically comply with MSHA regulations.  He couldn’t.  The regulations exist for large operations with employees.  However, the fine print in the “administrative code” seems to define an owner-operator as an “employee.” Hence, the MSHA inspectors nailed our local miner on technicalities about technicalities.

This is another example of administrative regulations crafted for circumstances that are not applicable (except on paper) in practical Alaska. That’s federal overreach.

There’s a rhetorical principle called “Toulmin’s fallacy.” It argues the impracticality of making a one-size-fits-all rule. That’s because there will always be a significant exception. We might call that common sense, but it has been long lost on helicopter-chartering MSHA administrators who flew out to the Pedro Monument to bust a miner who was only a federally perceived danger to himself, and no danger to anyone else.

Wayne E. Heimer is a long-term Alaskan who believes Toulmin had it right, and recommends ‘googling’ Roger Miller’s “Big River” musical, and listening to the “Guv’ment” track.


  1. Miners have had very little oversight or change in federal regulations since the Mining Law of 1872. Also, the state is nearly powerless to stop small miners from trashing salmon streams, cutting timber and vegetation, putting in four wheeler trails, putting up structures that winter destroys and storing 55 gallon drums of fuel near salmon streams. Miners can be major Takers. I’d rather see a lot more regulation, some of which would raise the state fees to cover the the rehabilitation of the land and associated administrative costs.

    • Of COURSE you would “rather see a lot more regulation”, Paolo — because you are a statist who worships governmental coercion over freedom and individual autonomy. You are profoundly sick in both mind and spirit.

    • Blah, blah, blah. You’d rather “see a lot more regulation” until, of course, it affects your sheltered way of life.

    • I’m curious what thoughts you have about subsistence use on native lands. Someone whose been out on native lands for decades would have a thought. Someone who lives on asphalt and thinks a day trip to flat top is “spending time in the bush” wouldn’t dare say a word about it.

    • None of your claimed examples have anything to do with the situation of the Fairbanks miner described in Heimer’s piece here. But thanks for the nonsensical obfuscation!

    • The mining law of 1872 has nothing to do with what you speak of. Also, the Feds have not been enforcing that law for decades. They are supposed to allow miners to file for patents on a claim. If the mine has met all the requirements outlined in the law, the Feds are supposed to sign off on the patents which they currently refuse to do. The law specifically outlines mining claims and has absolutely nothing to do with Environmental laws. know your facts before you speak about them.

    • You have not done your homework on knowing anything about small mining. An old saying I try to live by. Be sure to engage brain before putting mouth into gear.

  2. Administrative law is one painless way for politicians to exert control.

    They write a broad mandate, pass it into law and fund it, and then leave the bureaucrats to their own wits about growing their power.

    And it’s politically painless because no specific regulation has to be examined and debated on the floor of the Senate or the House…and if it all goes wrong the politicians can simply blame the bureaucrats.

  3. Let’s not forget about the Heavily Armed Tactical Gear of the esteemed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), harassing and intimidating miners at Chicken-AK in 2013.

  4. This is just another example of abuse of power by the Feds. The States have the ability to reign this kind of abuse in and write laws that protect their citizens. Biden will continue his onslaught against the rights of citizens because ultimately, their goal is to shred the constitution. Welcome to tyranny folks! The good news is Trump will once again fix all this upon entering office again. He cut thousands of government regulations when in office and he will do it again. Our government is no longer our friends’ folks. They have abandoned their sworn duty to protect the constitution and the people. If you can’t see this fact at this point, you are sleepwalking and are in for a rude awakening. The DOJ, FBI, DHS and many other Federal Agencies are actively censoring the truth and persecuting Americans for speaking out on the corruption. Just look at the congressional investigations and the information coming out by whistleblowers if you don’t believe you are a target just for exhibiting your rights.

  5. The upcoming Supreme Court decision on government ” interpretation” will hopefully end this bull****
    OSHA rightfully claims no authority over owner operators. MSHA should be the same. He needs a probono lawyer.

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