At the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources’ recent public hearing on the Board of Environmental Protection’s provisionally adopted rules on mining, a state senator questioned the integrity of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection staff and the Board of Environmental Protection.
I am deeply offended by his comment that the rule was “produced by a corrupt process” and wish to publicly and firmly stand by the department staff and the members of the board for the thousands of hours they invested, as well as their commitment to remain involved with the rules.
Perhaps the senator should have witnessed the department staff and BEP members working days, nights, weekends and holidays or gone to the homes of volunteer BEP members who worked tirelessly to ensure that the best rule was put forth for consideration by the Legislature.
License and permit decisions and rulemaking by the DEP can often be polarizing and emotional, and sometimes can have life-changing impacts for people who live near a project. The department takes those concerns seriously and considers them thoughtfully, but must comply with underlying laws when issuing permits or drafting new rules. This is the process we follow day in and day out and was no different under rulemaking for the Maine Metallic Mining Act.
When the department first learned that legislators were bringing forward a bill to modernize mining practices in Maine, we got to work immediately with our most experienced senior technical staffers, who have more than 156 years of combined experience, to ensure that any resulting law and rules were appropriately protective of the environment.
In the spring of 2012, our technical staff spent countless hours reviewing and commenting on the language of the bill. During the course of the 10 work sessions on the bill, DEP’s policy director was almost never alone at the briefing table. DEP’s mining coordinator, who has held that role for more than 20 years, including the last time the mining rule was updated, was an integral part of our team that briefed the legislative committee. In addition to his time dedicated to reviewing and commenting on drafts of the legislation, he also devoted days of his time to be present to answer the legislators’ questions. In fact, the department had some of its most experienced and best technical staff come forward to brief the committee in all the major issues associated with mining.
After the passage of the legislation, following a widely advertised, nationwide request for proposals for a mining consultant, the department awarded the contract to the North Jackson Co., an environmental science and engineering firm based in Michigan’s Marquette Mineral District. North Jackson was awarded the contract because it has experience not only with mineral mining activities through their consulting work, but also because they helped Michigan — a state with similar climatic conditions to Maine — with a similar mining rule updating process.
Building on the contractor’s work, DEP hydrogeologists, engineers and scientists got to work on creating a thorough draft rule for review by BEP. We also sought the advice of other state agencies, such as the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, for their expertise on certain issues and developed an environmentally appropriate rule that followed the underlying framework law. Following through on a promise made to share the working draft with interested parties before it went to BEP, we notified stakeholders about the draft in August and put it on our website.
Similar to the legislative sessions, during the formal rulemaking process with the BEP, the experienced mining team provided thorough, thoughtful, accurate and meaningful answers to the members’ questions. These BEP members carefully considered all environmental impacts when reviewing the draft rule, the comments from the public hearing in October, the written comments, the comments received following the substantive changes and the oral comments received at the Jan. 10 BEP adoption meeting before they voted unanimously to provisionally adopt the rule.
Shame on those for calling into question this open and transparent process. We can have a courteous conversation about the draft rule without making completely false and offending allegations that do little to help civil discourse in Augusta. The department staff, the BEP members and the public whose lives may be affected by future mining in Maine all deserve better.
Patricia Aho is commissioner of Maine Department of Environmental Protection.