by Lisa Pohlmann, NRCM Executive Director
A new open pit mining bill, LD 1853, was introduced just a couple of weeks ago. It would allow much more toxic mining pollution than Maine’s current rules allow. This complex and sweeping bill was released for “public review” less than 24 hours before the public hearing. Mining is currently allowed in Maine but with strong standards to protect our water, wildlife and environment.
Here are three key issues at stake:
- First: The mining bill would allow much more groundwater contamination than Maine’s current standards do. Once chemicals from open pit mining such as arsenic, lead and cyanide, seep into the groundwater, they can readily contaminate not only drinking water but our lakes, rivers and streams. Cleaning up contaminated ground and surface water is very difficult and expensive.
- Second: Mining companies are currently required to put money into a trust for dealing with pollution and mining disasters. The proposed bill allows much less secure methods for keeping that funding adequate and available. Without adequate funds, cleanup costs will fall to Maine taxpayers. This has happened at the mine in Brooksville, which is now a Superfund site.
- Third: The mining bill would eliminate current rules that help us consider other serious impacts from mining operations, including from noise, dust, water withdrawal, oil spills, and traffic.
This new mining bill was drafted by Nevada lawyers and the Pierce Atwood law firm to make it easier for JD Irving, a Canadian-based company, to build a massive open-pit mine at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County. But these changes would apply to mining anywhere in the state. Without maintaining our strong environmental protections, mining could have devastating consequences around Bald Mountain as well as in other areas with similar deposits including at Moosehead Lake, Cobscook Bay, and much of Maine’s Downeast coast.
The Natural Resources Committee has worked very hard on LD 1853 in the last two weeks. But with the rush to pass this bill, there is no way for citizens or lawmakers to identify and analyze the full impact of the proposals. And it is not prudent to risk a weaker statute on the belief that these very serious issues can all be worked out in rule-making; laws always trump rules.
Maine people want the Legislature to protect our citizens and wildlife from the devastating pollution that can arise from inadequately regulated open-pit mining. The consequences for the entire state are far-reaching and long-lasting. This should not be a rush job.