Senator Saviello, Representative Welsh, and members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee:
My name is Nick Bennett, and I am the staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. I reside in Hallowell. I am testifying in opposition to LD 146.
NRCM believes these proposed rules will not protect Maine’s environment or Maine taxpayers from the risks of mining in Maine’s sulfide ore deposits. When the material in these deposits reacts with air and water, it forms sulfuric acid. This acid can kill fish and other aquatic creatures when it enters surface water. The acid also leaches toxic heavy metals from rock—metals such as arsenic, lead, copper, and zinc (the last two are particularly deadly to aquatic organisms). This type of acid and heavy metal pollution is called acid mine drainage.
Over the past three years, we have reviewed the records of many mines around the country, examined mining rules in other states, and spoken with mining experts and affected citizens about mining pollution. From this research, we have learned that mining companies often pollute the environment and leave the public to pay the cleanup costs. If Maine is going to have large-scale metal mining again, then we need very protective and clear rules that will help prevent the type of problems that have plagued communities, taxpayers and the environment near mines across the country. These rules are neither protective nor clear.
Without strong regulations, Maine’s environment and taxpayers will suffer the consequences of mining pollution. Even modern mines are prone to catastrophic failures. Lack of adequate regulation was a key factor in the Mt. Polley mine disaster last August in British Columbia where a tailings dam collapsed due to design error. I urge the Committee to watch video of that tailings dam collapse online and imagine if it happened here. Initial cleanup cost estimates after this spill ranged from $200 to $400 million. Bryan Kynoch, president of Imperial Metals Corporation, stated his company does not have $400 million: “If it’s $400 million, then we are going to have to get mines generating to make that money to do the cleanup. We don’t have $400 million in the bank, so we’ll have to make that to do it.”
Maine should never be in this position. The Legislature should ensure that mining companies pay enough money up front to cover the costs of an environmental disaster.
I have attached a list of numerous problems with the mining rules to this testimony. The problems include, in addition to lack of adequate financial assurance:
- Allowing mines that are so dangerous, they will require perpetual water treatment;
- Allowing unlimited groundwater pollution under “mining areas”, a term that is unclear in both statute and the rules and that could encompass very large areas of land;
- Allowing mines in, on, or under many of Maine’s public lands; and
- Allowing mines in, on, or under many of Maine’s highest quality streams and lakes.
The attached list, which includes suggestions for improving the rules, was prepared by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Audubon, Maine Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, The Nature Conservancy, and Trout Unlimited. I urge the Committee to fix these problems with the rules. Doing so will likely require changes to statute and new rulemaking, especially given the Attorney General’s memo stating that DEP’s resubmission of these rules to the Committee is not consistent with the Administrative Procedures Act.The Natural Resources Council of Maine strongly opposes LD 146.I would be happy to answer any questions.