The Maine House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that would throw out proposed mining rules drafted after a legislative vote just two years ago and require the Department of Environmental Protection to write new ones.
The House vote was 98-39. The bill now goes to the Senate.
“We must make sure we protect the waters of Maine,” Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, the bill’s sponsor, said in a prepared statement. “If we are to have mining in Maine, we must make sure it protects our groundwater, lakes and other waterways. If we are to have mining in Maine, we must make sure that taxpayers are not saddled with cleanup costs as they have been in the past.”
In 2012, when Republicans had majorities in the House and Senate, the Legislature took up a bill that required the DEP to draft new mining rules to govern an industry that had been dormant for two decades. The aim was to clear the way for open-pit mining of minerals and precious metals at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County, a site owned by J.D. Irving Ltd., the state’s largest landowner.
The bill eventually passed, with aggressive lobbying by Irving’s representatives.
After its passage, however, attention shifted to whether the newly drafted rules would be adequate.
Business groups supported the law with the belief that mining might provide economic benefits. Environmental groups said the rules would be too lenient and could allow contamination of streams, rivers and other waterways.
Welsh’s bill would require the DEP to effectively start from scratch and draft new, and likely stricter, mining regulations by February 2016.
Even if the Senate passes her bill, it faces a possible veto by Gov. Paul LePage, who supported the bill passed two years ago.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: