Senator Saviello, Representative Tucker, and members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee:
My name is Nick Bennett, and I am the Staff Scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I reside in Hallowell. I am testifying in opposition to LD 395 and LD 160 and in support of LD 820.
Testimony in Opposition to LD 395
NRCM opposes LD 395, which would implement the 2017 version of the Board of Environmental Protection’s (BEP) weak mining rules. This is the third time in four years that the Legislature has received weak rules from the BEP. The BEP held a public hearing on these rules in the fall of 2016 and approved them unanimously in January of 2017 despite overwhelming public opposition. Opponents of the rules outnumbered supporters 441-2. As in 2014 and 2015, NRCM strongly opposes these weak rules.
The biggest problems with the rules are:
- They would allow mining on State lands, including spectacular Public Reserved Lands such as Deboullie, Nahmakanta, and Telos. The Legislature should ban mining on State lands.
- The requirements concerning “wet mine waste units” and tailings impoundments are not realistic or clear. The rules allow “wet mine waste units” for acid-generating waste rock. Mining companies often cover mining waste with water because it reduces acid generation from reactive waste. In Maine, the presence of this type of waste is very likely, especially at Bald Mountain. The rules say such “wet mine waste units” must be temporary, but this is virtually impossible. Once a mining company puts thousands or millions of tons of waste rock under water, moving that rock and shipping it elsewhere will be impossible.
- They would allow mining under lakes, coastal waters, rivers, streams, and wetlands. This is unacceptable. Maine people depend on clean water to support critical economic engines for our state: tourism, fishing, hunting, guiding, paddling, and many other activities. Wildlife watching, hunting, and fishing combined are worth about $1.4 billion annually. Fishing alone is worth around $300 million per year. Maine lakes support about 52,000 jobs with an economic impact of $3.5 billion annually. Weak mining rules are a serious threat to our clean water and sustainable, job-creating industries that depend on a clean environment.
Section 20(B)(3) of the initial draft of DEP’s 2017 rule actually included language banning mining under lakes, coastal waters, rivers, streams, and some wetlands:
Removal of ore in, on or under great ponds, rivers, brooks and streams, and coastal wetlands as defined in 38 M.R.S. § 480-B is prohibited, except that gold panning and recreational motorized gold prospecting are permitted pursuant to 38 M.R.S. §§ 480-Q(5) and 480-Q(5-A) and are exempt from the requirements of this Chapter.
Unfortunately, DEP removed this language from the proposed rules at the request of a BEP member.
- They would not require adequate financial assurance. They should, but do not, require mining companies to pay enough money up front, as determined by a third party, to a trust to clean up a worst-case environmental disaster.
- They allow open-pit mines. Open-pit mines typically generate ten times more waste than underground mines. Maine should not allow them.
We urge the ENR Committee to reject these rules and require DEP to pass new rules that would reflect the provisions of LD 820 and ban wet mine waste management and open-pit mines.
Testimony in Support of LD 820
LD 820 addresses many of the biggest problems with the 2017 mining rules, particularly those DEP has repeatedly claimed it cannot address on its own through rulemaking. It would ban mines in, on, or under public lands; ban the dangerous parts of mines from floodplains; ban mines under lakes, rivers, coastal waters, and wetlands; require mining companies to pay enough money up front, as determined by a third party, to a trust to clean up a worst-case environmental disaster; strengthen the definition of “mining area;” limit groundwater pollution in mining areas (current statute allows unlimited groundwater pollution in mining areas); and require that any future changes to Maine’s mining rules receive an affirmative vote from both houses of the Legislature.
The provisions in LD 820, combined with a ban on open-pit mining and wet mine waste management, would give Maine strict and clear protections from mining pollution.
Testimony in Opposition to LD 160
The effect and intent of this bill are entirely unclear.
If the term “metallic minerals” in LD 160 means target metals, then there is likely no metal deposit in Maine large enough to come under this ban. Target metals are typically about one percent of an orebody. So, for example, Bald Mountain’s orebody is about 35 million tons. If one percent of that is target metals, if that is what “metallic minerals” means, then Bald Mountain would have about 350,000 tons of “metallic minerals” and would not come under this proposed ban. Even if “metallic minerals” means ore, the relevance of a one-million ton cutoff is questionable. A one-million ton orebody would result in a small mine, but it is still a large amount of material. For comparison purposes, the entire state of Maine generated about 1.2 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2015.(1) If the ore is reactive or near a sensitive resource, it could cause a lot of damage. So, the one-million ton cutoff is arbitrary, whatever the term “metallic minerals” means.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to take any questions.
(1) Maine Solid Waste Generation and Disposal Capacity Report: Calendar Year 2015. Accessed at: http://www.maine.gov/dep/legislative/reports.html