We won’t get ahead by putting our natural resources at risk.
by George Smith
Central Maine newspaper column
Brook trout are more valuable than gold. That was the substance of my testimony on a slew of bills that would govern mining in Maine. Some would make it easier to mine here, some would make it tougher, and some would ban mining.
Rep. Bob Duchesne, D-Old Town, the sponsor of a bill to ban mining, testified that his bill “is not the only approach, and may not be the best approach,” but he wanted to give the committee that option if they cannot agree on a package of rules governing mining.
Mining issues have been debated — and left unresolved — for the last two legislative sessions, and a lot of that history was revisited during the six-hour public hearing on these bills. But a strong move by environmental groups, along with the possibility of simply enacting a law banning mining in our state, left the impression that we might finally resolve this very contentious issue.
Environmental groups rallied around bill, L.D. 820, by Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, that places strict limits on where and how mining could occur. For example, Beth Ahearn, lobbyist for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, representing 34 conservation groups with 100,000 members, said “L.D. 820 is a proactive priority… which addresses many of the problems… with the 2017 mining rules.”
Those rules, developed by the Department of Environmental Protection, were also on the hearing schedule and must be approved by the Legislature in order to take effect. Many at the hearing testified against the DEP’s proposed rules, feeling that they are inadequate to protect our state from mining disasters.
Nick Bennett of the Natural Resources Council, who was praised by Environment and Natural Resources Committee Senate chairman Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, for his work on both Carson’s bill and the overall effort to resolve these issues, testified against the DEP’s rules and in support of Carson’s bill. And so did Jeff Reardon of Trout Unlimited. TU was the only group representing sportsmen and women to testify.
“God does not come back and rebuild these mountains.” That was the testimony of a Maine tribal leader. One of the strongest statements was this, delivered in a strong voice by a 14th generation Aroostook County lady farmer: “It’s like rape. No means no!”
During my testimony, I held up a brook trout carved by my dad, Ezra Smith, telling legislators that I was sure they would agree this fish is much more beautiful than a piece of gold. I pleaded with them not to allow anything to jeopardize these fish. Maine has almost all of the native brookies left in this nation’s lakes and ponds. We’ve protected them in more than 500 lakes and ponds, and are working this session to extend that protection to tributaries.
I read a couple of news items to the committee. From the Sunday Telegram on Feb. 26: “The Trump administration has delayed consideration of a proposal to require companies to prove they have the financial wherewithal to clean up polluted mining sites after a pushback from industry groups and Western-state Republicans.” Clearly, we can’t depend on the federal government to protect us on this issue.
From the Associated Press on Aug. 15, 2015: “It will take many years and many millions of dollars simply to manage and not even remove the toxic wastewater from an abandoned mine that unleashed a 100-mile-long torrent of heavy metals into Western rivers and has likely reached Lake Powell, experts said. Plugging Colorado’s Gold King Mine could simply lead to any eventual explosion of poisonous water elsewhere, so the safest solution, they said Thursday, would be to install a treatment plant that would indefinitely clean the water from Gold King and three other nearby mines. It would cost millions of dollars, and do nothing to contain the thousands of other toxic streams that are a permanent legacy of mining across the nation.”
A permanent legacy. I asked legislators if this was what they wanted their legacy to be. I think not.
Mines will not save our rural communities. We can do that in much better ways. I encouraged legislators to get up to Orono to see the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine. It is an amazing place, working with 500 clients all over the world.
Quite a few of their new innovative products are — or will be — made right here in Maine. The Bridge in a Backpack would be a great example. This was 16 years in the making to create the composite arch tubes that lower bridge construction costs, and extend their lifespan up to 100 years. This year Terre Armee Group, with more than 30 construction and engineering companies around the world, agreed to market and distribute these bridge-in-a-backpack materials.
This is our future — not mining.
Tourism is our biggest economic driver, and I reminded legislators that no one comes to Maine to see a mine. But mines could ruin the things that do bring them here — including our beautiful brook trout. All I could say, at the end of my testimony, was please, do no harm.