The proposed mining rules before the Legislature are too risky. The amended version of L.D. 750 puts Maine’s natural resources in jeopardy, threatening our waterways and the jobs that depend upon them. We must reject this law.

In 2012, Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, sponsored a bill on behalf of his constituent, the largest landowner in Maine, J.D. Irving, to allow mining in Maine. The current rules from 1991 were a defacto ban, as they did not allow for any groundwater contamination. Irving lobbyists have helped craft the statute and shepherded the bill throughout the process, hiring Jim Butler to share his perspective. Butler is a lawyer from Utah who has helped permit mines all over the country and has lobbied in front of Congress on behalf of Barrick Gold Corp., the largest gold company in the world.

In March 2012, we asked for proof of a responsible mine in a climate similar to Maine, and were told Flambeau Mine in Wisconsin was such a mine. But we have not heard about Flambeau since 2012, because this model mine turned out not to be so stellar after all.

That July, mere months after it was touted a model mine, a federal judge ruled that Flambeau Mining Co. violated the Clean Water Act, when copper and zinc from the mine entered a small stream that fed the nearby Flambeau River. The judge said the amount of pollution was minimal, and the company’s environmental practices were “exemplary.”

Is “minimal pollution” the best we can hope for?

L.D. 750 allows for mining too close to our waterways to be protective. The risk of contamination to our lakes, rivers, streams and ponds is too great. Clean lakes alone support 52,000 jobs and contribute $3 billion to the state’s economy. Our commercial fishing industry employs 20,000 people and $1 billion to Maine’s economy. It is irresponsible to put these jobs at risk. Our state deserves better.

We live in a wet climate, which greatly increases the inherent risk of mining. The materials currently underground become dangerous to our environment when they are unearthed and exposed to water and air. The mining waste can leach arsenic and other heavy metals, so-called acid mine drainage. This would leave Maine with 50 to 100 years or more of contamination to our water.

Those who think these proposed mining rules are protective enough say Maine will do things differently from states that have had mining mishaps, regardless of the dismal history of mining.

We believe we cannot risk the future for potential short-term gain. The potential jobs that may or may not go to Mainers are finite. Our environment is infinite and so is contaminated water. We urge people to call their representatives and senators and urge them to vote against L.D. 750.

Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, serves on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Larry Dunphy, R-Embden, is the ranking minority member on the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee.

filed under: