Metallic mineral mining in Maine needs to be held to the highest possible standards to protect Maine’s environment and taxpayers. Mining companies have a terrible record of polluting the environment and then sticking the public with the cleanup costs.

This happened in Maine at the Callahan mining site in Brooksville, which still is not cleaned up more than 40 years after it closed. It also has happened in many other parts of the country. We can’t let it happen again in Maine.

Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection soon will begin the process of reviewing draft mining rules that, currently, will not ensure that mining here takes place with the best practices for the environment and for Maine taxpayers.

On Thursday, starting at 9 a.m. at the Augusta Civic Center, the environmental protection board will hold a critical public hearing on the Department of Environmental Protection’s new draft mining rules. Some of the provisions that remain missing from the rules were contained in a letter a bipartisan group of legislators sent in June to DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho.

We urged the inclusion of five major provisions in the draft rules to help protect Maine from mining pollution. Unfortunately, DEP adopted only one of those measures — a prohibition on the use of mining waste rock for road building or other construction.

Although we appreciate that DEP adopted that one provision, we ask the board to also adopt the other four provisions we requested.

Specifically, the board should amend the rules to: 

• Deny a permit to any mine that cannot complete wastewater treatment within 10 years of closure. Ten years is ample time for cleanup if a mine adopts best practices.

The draft rules allow 30 years of treatment, which greatly increases the risk that a mine operator will run out of money before treatment is completed, risking contamination of Maine waters. In addition, Maine taxpayers would be forced to pick up the cost.

• Minimize groundwater contamination. The rules should establish a default distance of 100 feet for compliance monitoring wells, the same requirement as for landfills, unless the applicant demonstrates that an alternative distance would be more effective. Once groundwater contamination spreads over a wide area, as the current rules would allow, it becomes much more difficult to control and clean up, and greatly increases the risk of surface water pollution, harm to wildlife and pollution of drinking water supplies.

• Require identification of best industry practices. The rules should require each applicant to include in its permit application an analysis and description of three mines that have applied “best practices” for preventing water pollution, and how those best practices will be applied here in Maine. The draft rules include no such provision.

• Require full payment and third-party verification of financial assurance. The rules should require the mine operator to deposit the full amount of reclamation and closure costs as financial assurance in a trust prior to mine construction. DEP also should require independent third-party verification of reclamation and closure costs.

The draft rules have no provision for third-party verification validation and would allow mining companies to put up only half of the cost of reclamation and closure into a fund at the time of construction. This would be risky for Maine people because mining companies have a history of going bankrupt and leaving taxpayers with huge clean-up bills. 

Maine’s greatest economic assets are our natural resources and our people. We urge the board to pass standards strict enough to protect both from the real-world risks of mining pollution.
 
Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, is the assistant House majority leader and the former executive director of the Somerset County Soil and Water District. Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, is serving his second term in the House of Representatives and serves on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.