Move likely to preserve state’s long and informal moratorium on digging for metals
By Jon Kamp
Wall Street Journal news story
Lawmakers in Maine have toughened the state’s mining regulations, overriding a veto from Gov. Paul LePage to potentially lengthen the state’s decadeslong, informal moratorium on digging for metals.
The new rules, sponsored by a Democratic state senator, require mining companies to set aside money for at least a century to cover cleanup after a mine shuts to limit future taxpayer liability. It also includes strict rules for handling waste and bans open-pit mining.
The restrictions passed with bipartisan support and won cheers from environmentalists who sought to protect the state’s woodsy, sparsely populated northern wilderness. Nick Bennett, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, called the new law a victory for the state, with strong protections “so that if mining companies come here, they do it right.”
But the Republican governor said the restrictions would put the state at a competitive disadvantage. “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,” Mr. LePage had said in his June 2 veto message.
Lawmakers overrode the mining veto Wednesday with a unanimous vote in the Republican-controlled Senate and a 122-21 vote in the Democratic-controlled House.
This is the latest clash between lawmakers and the governor, who has vetoed at least 460 bills since taking office in 2011, according to data from the nonpartisan Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library. Nearly half of the vetoes have been overridden.
Maine lawmakers have been grappling for years over bills and rules that could determine whether any new mines are dug. Maine has deposits of metals like copper, zinc, gold and silver, but the state’s last metallic-mineral mine closed in 1977.
In a press release, state Senate Democrats highlighted a former open-pit mine, which closed in 1972 and became a federal Superfund site with ongoing cleanup, as an example highlighting the need for tough restrictions.
Mining proponents have blamed regulations dating back to 1991 for hindering the industry. In 2012, the GOP-controlled legislature enacted changes with a law that directed state regulators to replace those rules. But the changes required even more legislative signoff, and lawmakers wound up rejecting the rules twice following changes in the legislature.
State records show closely held J.D. Irving Ltd., a conglomerate based in New Brunswick, Canada, that owns a huge swath of Maine land, lobbied for the 2012 law. As the debate ramped up again in 2015, a company spokeswoman said the company believed responsible mining can provide vital job creation in northern Maine, an isolated region hurt by paper mill closures. The debate at the time centered around Bald Mountain in Maine’s northernmost county, where metal deposits were first found 40 years ago.
J.D. Irving didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the new law.