AUGUSTA — After years of heated debate, Maine lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to restrictive new regulations on metallic mining despite a veto from Gov. Paul LePage.

The Senate voted 35-0 and the House voted 122-21 to override LePage’s veto of a bill that bans larger open pit mines as well as underwater storage of mine waste. The bill also requires companies to set aside money to cover the costs of cleaning up or treating any environmental contamination for at least 100 years after a mine’s closure.

“Today, the Legislature affirmed its commitment to protect our state’s water, our people’s health and the taxpayers’ dollars from the potential dangers of metallic mining,” bill sponsor Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, said in a statement. “I am proud that senators and representatives came together to tell industry and Gov. LePage that the health and wellbeing of Mainers will always come before the profits of mining companies.”

Lawmakers have been debating mining regulations for more than five years, ever since New Brunswick-based J.D. Irving Ltd. sought changes that would allow it to mine for gold, silver and other valuable metals near Aroostook County’s Bald Mountain.

LePage successfully vetoed previous attempts to rewrite the state’s mining regulations, yet lawmakers have rejected several drafts of rules compiled by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Board of Environmental Protection. As a result, the state’s environmental regulations regarding mining have been in a state of limbo.

In his veto message, LePage predicted the bill, L.D. 820, would prevent job creation in Maine because of “unnecessary prohibitions based on fear, not science.”

“This bill will deter any company from mining in Maine, and it will discourage exploration of our mineral deposits because this bill would make them undevelopable,” LePage wrote. “As a state we should encourage innovation and welcome businesses that will employ our citizens and contribute to our gross domestic product. This bill takes away the opportunity for innovative companies to select safe and cost-effective methods to mine, and it perpetuates the hypocritical, not-in-my-backyard attitude that keeps Maine at a competitive disadvantage.”

Many of the state’s environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Trout Unlimited, were heavily involved in developing the language that went into L.D. 820.

“The bill sets a new standard that could serve as a model for any state interested in protecting their citizens and environment from mining pollution,” Nick Bennett, a staff scientist at NRCM who helped craft the bill, said in a statement. “We are delighted that both Republicans and Democrats voted with such overwhelming margins to ensure that this protective bill will become law despite the governor’s objections.”

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