On Jan. 10, the Board of Environmental Protection passed mining rules that will not protect Maine’s environment or taxpayers. People in support of stronger rules outnumbered those supporting these weak rules by more than 100 to 1. The BEP, however, largely ignored this testimony and also ignored a letter in support of protective mining rules from a bipartisan group of 15 legislators, including us, and the oral testimony of an unprecedented seven legislators who urged the BEP to pass stronger rules.
At the legislative hearing on these rules on Feb. 24, opponents of these weak rules outnumbered supporters by about 8 to1. We believe the Legislature should listen to this overwhelming opposition and reject these rules to protect Maine’s environment and taxpayers from the dangerous consequences of poorly regulated mining.
During the 2013 legislative session, we supported a bill — L.D. 1302 — that would have started a good rulemaking process for metallic mining. A key provision in L.D. 1302 would have prevented the most irresponsible mining operations by not allowing any mines that would require more than 10 years of post-closure wastewater treatment. If a mine is going to cause such bad pollution that it will take hundreds or thousands of years to treat the wastewater, regulators simply should not give it a permit. L.D. 1302 passed overwhelmingly in the House (97-40), but it failed in the Senate by just three votes.
Alarmingly, the proposed rules allow mines that can pollute water forever. These mines are dangerous for the environment and cost a lot of money for water treatment long after they have ceased to be productive. Maine taxpayers likely will end up paying those costs, because no mining company lasts forever.
The rules also allow mines next to or under the majority of Maine’s lakes and rivers. It is difficult even to imagine how mining tunnels under lakes and rivers will change the values of these important resources for Maine. Lakefront property owners would suffer big losses in property value if there were mining tunnels underneath their favorite fishing spots or even underneath their houses. A few short-term mining jobs will not make up for this sort of economic disruption.
The proposed rules also allow mines on many public and conservation lands, including lands the Land for Maine’s Future program helped purchase. Maine voters must approve the bond funds that Land for Maine’s Future uses to purchase lands. Bond ballots in Maine state clearly that the bond money is for conservation purposes. It is completely unacceptable to allow mines on lands that Maine people have paid to conserve, but that is what these rules would do.
These rules are bad for Maine. They will not protect Maine’s environment or its taxpayers from the dangers of mining pollution. Mining companies have a terrible record of polluting the environment and then sticking the public with the cleanup costs. This has happened many times across the country and here in Maine at the Callahan mining site in Brooksville. Maine taxpayers are still paying to clean up that mine more than 40 years after it closed, and the largest parts of the cleanup process haven’t even started.
The Legislature must not let this happen in Maine again. We should reject the proposed mining rules outright.
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.