Record Shows Opponents Outnumber Proponents: 436-2
NRCM news release
Mainers are overwhelmingly lining up against draft rules that would weaken environmental protections from mining pollution in Maine. The Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) is holding a deliberative session to consider the draft rules today at the Augusta Civic Center.
According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), 436 individuals from 187 Maine towns either testified in person or submitted written comments to the BEP to oppose draft mining rules currently under consideration. Only two individuals provided comments in support of the rules.
“Once again, Maine people are speaking up in overwhelming numbers against draft mining rules that won’t protect Maine’s environment or taxpayers,” said NRCM Staff Scientist Nick Bennett. “Mainers are deeply concerned about the pollution and long-term financial costs that could be left behind from metal mining in Maine. That explains the extensive public sentiment against the weak draft rules.”
At a September 15th public hearing, BEP accepted comments on the draft mining rules. In addition, the BEP received hundreds of pages of comments from individuals across Maine during the public comment period, which ended September 26th. Now, the BEP is reviewing the comments and the draft rules.
At the public hearing, opponents who testified outnumbered proponents 24 to 1. Residents from across Maine voiced strong concerns about the possibility that Canada-based J.D. Irving Ltd. will pursue an open-pit mine at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County. This site is especially troubling due to the high levels of sulfuric acid and arsenic that could flow into waters, including pristine streams that are home to cherished native brook trout.
Although Irving claims that a mine at Bald Mountain would create jobs for Aroostook County, the record shows widespread opposition of the rules from residents of Aroostook County. The BEP received comments in opposition to the rules from Aroostook County residents living in Carr Pond, Easton, Houlton, Island Falls, Mapleton, Mars Hill, Presque Isle, Sherman, and Woodland.
Over the past four years, Irving has lobbied to weaken Maine’s mining rules. In the final days of the 2012 legislative session, Irving secured passage of a new law that directed DEP to rewrite Maine’s mining rules. In 2014 and 2015, the Legislature rejected similar rules. The rules now before the BEP are mostly unchanged from the version that the Legislature overwhelmingly rejected in 2015 with a vote of 109-36 in the House and 26-8 in the Senate.
The only individual to testify in support of the rules at the BEP’s public hearing was Maine State Geologist Robert Marvinney, an employee of the LePage Administration.
“Mining pollution is a serious threat to many of Maine’s traditional job-creating industries. The guiding, fishing, lobstering, and tourism industries all depend on Maine’s clean water. These rules would not protect clean water,” said Bennett.
Over the past four years, NRCM has reviewed all testimony and public comments that have been delivered on the draft mining rules, and catalogued each comment in terms of support and opposition as well as town of residence of the commenter. When the BEP considered draft mining rules in 2013, public comments in opposition outnumbered comments in support by 248 to 16. During two public hearings held in 2015 by the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, testimony in opposition to the weak mining rules outnumbered comments in support by 153 to 15, with not a single citizen from Aroostook County testifying in support.
Combining comments from these rounds of consideration of mining rules, opponents have outnumbered supporters 837-33, with the majority of comments in support being delivered by lobbyists for Irving or consulting firms that would benefit from mining in Maine. “The public record shows essentially no citizen support for these weak mining rules. Not from Aroostook County residents, and not from Maine people,” said Bennett.
Much of the discussion about mining in Maine has focused on Irving’s interest in an open-pit mine at Bald Mountain, which Irving President Jim Irving has described as a 100-acre open pit within a 500-acre mine site. In October 2014, NRCM released a report: Bald Mountain Mining Risks: Hidden from the Public. It documents the high likelihood of sulfuric acid and arsenic pollution from mining at Bald Mountain. The report reveals information in DEP files from previous companies that owned the mineral rights at Bald Mountain but decided against pursuing an active mine.
DEP developed these draft rules, which would apply statewide and replace existing, more protective rules that Maine adopted in 1991.