NRCM Calls on DEP to Change Process to Protect Public Interests
NRCM News Release
The Natural Resources Council of Maine today released documents showing that a contractor recently hired by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to help rewrite Maine’s mining regulations is deeply connected to some of the world’s largest mining corporations, including the multibillion-dollar mining conglomerates Rio Tinto and Cliffs Natural Resources. DEP recently announced awarding the contract to the Michigan-based North Jackson Company, which was the only bidder that responded to DEP’s request for proposals.
“There’s no mistaking where North Jackson Company makes its money,” said Didisheim. “DEP has hired a mining industry contractor to draft the rules for mining in Maine. This is a big problem.”
Page One of North Jackson Company’s proposal says: “We pride ourselves in our long relationships with two major metallic mining companies: Cliffs Natural Resources and Rio Tinto. We have served multi-national mining companies from the start, including permitting new and expanded operations and addressing legacy environmental impacts.”
The North Jackson Company’s proposal to DEP reveals the company’s extensive work writing permit applications to create new mines (the Eagle Mine in Marquette County, MI) and to expand existing mines (including the Empire Mine in Palmer, MI and the Tilden Mine in Ishpeming, MI). The company’s CFO, who also is the point person for the DEP contract, even served as an industry witness for Kennecott’s defense of a mining permit that was under appeal.
In a letter sent today to DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho, NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim said, “The process you are pursuing gives too much influence to mining interests and not enough opportunity for Maine people to participate in drafting rules that could result in widespread water pollution and massive financial clean-up costs for the State if the public’s interests are not protected.”
“NRCM is concerned that DEP is pursuing a —behind closed doors approach to drafting these rules, with mining company interests essentially drafting the rules for themselves,” added Didisheim. “That’s why we’re calling on DEP to promptly announce a new approach that would be open and transparent and provide full and meaningful involvement for concerned Maine citizens, and also for the DEP technical staff whose job is being outsourced to a contractor that appears to make most of its money from the mining industry.”
The North Jackson Company proposal identifies nine mineral mining companies that the firm has worked for. NRCM secured a copy of the North Jackson Company proposal through a Freedom of Access Act request.
In the letter to DEP, NRCM also raised concerns that the DEP and North Jackson Company have misrepresented the role that North Jackson Company played in helping Michigan develop mining rules in 2004 and 2005. In a November 19, 2012 news release, DEP said that the company was selected in part because “they helped Michigan—a state with similar climactic conditions to Maineâwith a similar rule updating process.” Documents released today by NRCM show that this is false. “North Jackson Company was not a member of the work group that developed Michigan’s rules, and DEP should not have issued a news release claiming that they were,” said Didisheim. Because news stories repeated this false information, NRCM has called on DEP to issue a correction so that Maine people are not misled about the North Jackson Company’s qualifications.
NRCM believes that DEP should not have accepted the North Jackson Company’s bid, but appealing the contract was precluded because DEP failed to publicly announce the selection of the North Jackson Company until long after the appeal filing period (within 15 days of an award) had expired. The Department’s letter to North Jackson Company accepting their proposal was dated October 11, 2012, but DEP failed to publicly announce the contract until November 19, 2012, five weeks later.
“Our fundamental concern is that these critical rules will be developed mostly behind closed doors, by a contractor closely tied to the mining industry, with no clear opportunity for public involvement before the rules are essentially a done deal,” said Didisheim. “We don’t even know whether the top technical and professional staff at DEP and Maine’s other natural resource agencies will play a meaningful part in drafting the rules, or whether the whole show will essentially be run by the North Jackson Company.”
“This process is flawed, which is why we’re calling on DEP Commissioner Aho to promptly announce a drastically altered approach for drafting Maine’s new mining rules. Open-pit mines are a messy business, with serious potential for catastrophic water pollution and massive clean-up costs. For the final rules to be credible, we believe they must be developed through a transparent process that is open to public and stakeholder input, and led by a publicly announced team of DEP technical staff who are accountable to the people of Maine.”
“Absent such steps, we believe this rulemaking process will be suspect from the start, with Maine people, communities, and lawmakers not able to trust that the interests of our state are being fully reflected and protected,” said Didisheim. “The DEP should look carefully at the open, transparent, consensus-based process that was used in Michigan and replicate that approach to the extent possible.”
Attachments to NRCM letter to DEP
North Jackson Company bid to DEP
Learn more about the issue of open-pit mining in Maine.
Open-pit mining in Maine: Read NRCM’s position paper.
NRCM letter to DEP Commissioner Aho