AUGUSTA — A bill that would add environmental safeguards to Maine mining laws was rejected by a single vote in the Senate on Thursday, with lawmakers from northern Maine opposing it.

In an 18-17 vote, the Senate rejected a largely Democratic version of the bill. That was at odds with a 91-49 vote in favor of the bill in the House on Wednesday. The Senate’s vote makes it unlikely to pass, though it faces further action in the House.

L.D. 1302, sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, would amend a mining law passed last year to add water quality safeguards. That law was passed to help the development of a potential copper-zinc mine on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.

There are no current applications for open-pit mining in Maine, but New Brunswick-based JD Irving Ltd. has been evaluating the potential of the Bald Mountain site. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce has estimated that a mine there could bring 700 jobs to the area. Supporters of L.D. 1302, led by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, have said the bill would protect water from contaminants such as sulfuric acid and toxic metals, and protect taxpayers from paying cleanup costs after a mine is closed.

The bill would mandate an independent analysis of cleanup costs. All water treatment would have to be done within 10 years after a mine’s closure. The bill also would require the mine operator to commit adequate money for cleanup after closure, putting it into a trust that the state could use immediately after closure.

The last mine in Maine was the Callahan Mine, in the coastal Hancock County town of Brooksville. More than 800,000 tons of rock containing zinc and copper ore were removed before the mine was closed in 1972. It is now an EPA Superfund site, with an estimated cleanup cost of $23 million.

Opponents of L.D. 1302, including the state chamber of commerce, have said it is too stringent and would hamper efforts to create jobs in Aroostook County.

The proposal divides lawmakers largely along geographic lines. The LePage administration opposed the bill in testimony from the Department of Environmental Protection. McCabe’s bill is backed mostly by Democrats. The only four Democrats who opposed it in the House are from Aroostook and Penobscot counties.

In the Senate, two prominent Democrats, Majority Leader Troy Jackson, of Allagash, and Emily Cain, of Orono, spoke against the bill.

Jackson said he worries about mining’s effect on the environment but that the bill looks like “an attempt to stop mining in Maine.”

“I’ve lived there my whole life. I don’t want to be the guy that ruined that part of the state of Maine,” he said, “but at the same time, it’s incumbent upon me to let this process play out because Aroostook County is depressed. There’s no doubt about that.”

Sen. Christopher Johnson, D-Somerville, said on the floor that rejecting the bill would put the establishment of any safeguards on mining at risk.

Cain’s vote surprised the bill’s proponents, said Pete Didisheim, a lobbyist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Though the Senate rejected a more stringent bill supported by the majority of a legislative committee, it agreed on a watered-down version supported by the committee’s minority.

The minority report removes most provisions of the bill, including a requirement for an independent analysis of cleanup costs and the establishment of a trust that the state could access to pay for cleanups if necessary.

It also would require treatment to be completed within 30 years after a mine is closed, rather than the 10 years called for in the bill. Current law has no deadline.

“The minority report doesn’t do anything,” Didisheim said. “It’s business as usual.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652
[email protected]

Tom Bell — 791-6369
[email protected]
Twitter: @TomBellPortland

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.