Good morning Senator Boyle, 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 (NRCM). I am testifying in support of LD 1302.
NRCM supports LD 1302 because it would strengthen last year’s mining bill in four key ways:
LD 1302 would not allow mines that require perpetual operation of wastewater or drinking water treatment plants. A treatment plant that can remove metals and neutralize acid is very expensive. It typically costs at least $10 million to build and $1 million per year to operate. At the Iron Mountain mine, an old mine in California, USGS estimates that the wastewater treatment plant will need to run for 2500 to 3000 years (1). This is a very costly undertaking with dubious prospects for long-term success.
Even modern mines often end up requiring perpetual water treatment. For example, the Summitville gold mine in Colorado opened in 1984 and closed in 1992 when its Canadian owner went bankrupt. The federal government has spent more than $200 million(2) cleaning up this site, including $17 million(3) for a new wastewater treatment plant completed in 2011 that must run forever. The State of Colorado and the federal government will share the costs of running this plant(4).
NRCM believes that Maine taxpayers would eventually pay if DEP allows mines that depend on perpetual treatment as part of their closure plan. Last year’s legislation did not address this issue, so it needs to be addressed now. The language in LD 1302 concerning perpetual treatment is similar to existing law in Michigan and New Mexico.
LD 1302 would require companies to prevent the spread of groundwater contamination. Last year’s mining legislation did not specify that groundwater contamination must be kept as close as possible to mining activities. LD 1302 does. It borrows directly from Chapter 405 of the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) solid waste rules, which states:
The downgradient monitoring wells must be located as close as practical to the solid waste boundary(s) of landfills, or the waste handling area of solid waste facilities that are not landfills, but in no case greater than 100 feet away, unless placing some of the wells at greater distances enhances the ability to detect a release from the facility. In such a case, placement of wells more than 100 feet distant may be proposed for approval by the
DEP has this requirement for landfills because once groundwater contamination spreads, collection and treatment become difficult if not impossible. If Maine requires compliance monitoring wells within 100 feet of landfills, it should require the same for mines.
LD 1302 protects Maine taxpayers by requiring a certified third party to calculate reclamation costs before mining begins. It also requires the mine operator to place that amount of funding in a secure trust. As Dr. David Chambers noted in his presentation to the Committee on April 24, the state must have access to all of the money it may need to clean up a mine. It also needs to have access quickly, because mining companies can go bankrupt overnight if metal prices crash. To ensure that Maine taxpayers won’t be stuck with cleanup costs, the state must be the beneficiary of a secure trust with the right to withdraw funds at its discretion for mine cleanup and closure.
LD 1302 requires that mining companies prove they can operate without polluting the ground and surface water before getting a permit. During last year’s mining bill debate, JD Irving and its representatives claimed with great confidence that they could mine at Bald Mountain without polluting the water. James Irving actually said: “If I can’t go and drink the water at the end of the pipe coming from the mine, we shouldn’t be doing it.”(6) The public deserves to know the evidence that supports this confidence. If this confidence is justified, then an applicant should easily be able to identify one mine somewhere else in the US that has operated without polluting the water.
Mining poses many risks to Maine’s natural resources and traditional industries. Total recreational fishing expenditures in Maine, for example, were $371 million in 2011(7). A large proportion of these expenditures were related to brook trout, a species that is extremely sensitive to the acid and heavy metal pollution from sulfide mining. Any sulfide mining in Maine needs to be done right, without threatening our natural resources and the existing businesses that use them.
Mining operations and jobs are typically short-lived. relatively small deposit such as that at Bald Mountain, for example, would likely only support mining for five to ten years. But mining waste can generate acid and heavy metal pollution for hundreds or thousands of years. Maine needs strong laws and rules to keep waste on mine sites and out of Maine’s water. Laws and rules must also ensure that mining companies and not Maine citizens pay the costs of closing and reclaiming mines. LD 1302 takes important steps toward these ends. To help protect Maine’s waters, environment, and taxpayers, we urge the Committee to vote ought-to-pass on LD 1302. Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to take any questions.
1 See http://www.epa.gov/aml/tech/imm.pdf , p. 8
2 See http://www.epa.gov/superfund/accomp/factsheets05/summit.htm
3 See htto://www.epa.gov/region08/superfund/co/summitville/index.html
http://www.epa.gov/region8/ superfund/ co/summitville/Summitville Remedia!ActionCompletionReport28Sep2012. pQ.f, p.11.
5 Department of Environmental Protection Rules, Chapter 405, P. 3.
6 See http://www.bangordailynews.com/2012/05/03/business/james-irving-addresses-maine-mining-interests-at-umfk-forum/
7 See http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/ref/collection/document/id/858, P. 18.