By Anthony Brino, BDN Staff
Bangor Daily News news story
Controversial metal mining rules proposed by state regulators have been revised, and the public again has a chance to weigh in before the measures go any further.
The Board of Environmental Protection continued discussions of the Department of Environmental Protection’s third proposal for new state mining regulations during a deliberative session at a Nov. 3 meeting. After more than four hours, the BEP voted to incorporate a number of revisions suggested by DEP staff that stemmed from concerns raised by the public and the board over the past two months. The DEP will now post the revised set of proposed rules and welcome public comment for 30 days.
The BEP will later vote on whether to “provisionally adopt” the rules, with a deadline of voting on the package by the second Friday in January, and the Legislature then will have to approve or vote them down.
The proposed rules, known as Chapter 200, stem from a 2012 law changing Maine’s two-decade-old mining regulations to streamline permitting of metal mines. That law was spearheaded by Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake after Canadian forest products giant JD Irving Ltd. expressed interest in developing a mine for copper, zinc and other metals at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County, where the company owns industrial timberland in the North Woods.
Environmental advocates, such as Nick Bennett, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, say that the law is too permissive of mining and that most metal mining would be too risky for Maine’s water-rich landscape hosting naturally-occurring pollutants in various rock formations.
DEP staff tried to address a range of concerns raised by the public during previous hearings and submitted in written comments to regulators, said Cindy Bertocci, board executive analyst. No public comments were taken during the deliberative session Thursday.
The revised package of mining regulations will include new language covering tailings, which are collections of mine processing effluent, and mine waste, public lands and long-term financial assurance.
The revisions address what DEP state implementation plan specialist Jeff Crawford said at the meeting was the “seminal issue” concerning storage of tailings or mine waste — dealing with the vast amounts of waste rock and waste water typical of open pit mines.
The proposed regulations would ban “wet tailings” impoundments with acidic-generating waste, while allowing “wet mine waste,” such as the unprocessed top layers of bedrock that could be used to fill in areas of mine.
The revised proposal also would require a company to cover all costs of cleaning up contamination of surrounding areas from a catastrophic mine failure and to cover treatment of contamination at the site for as long as 100 years. The company would have to set up a trust with at least 15 percent of the estimated cost of such cleanups secured in cash, bonds or certificates of deposit.
The proposal also has a new requirement for a third-party inspector to track compliance with pollution controls at mines, as well as a provision that would let the DEP decide whether a mine has “no unreasonable effect” on public lands, historic sites, and unique ecosystems and wildlife, and scenic character.
Bennett said he’ll be closely reading the new draft of the proposal and sharing thoughts on behalf of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. He said he remained concerned about the section of regulations governing wet tailings. Though the revision would ban wet tailings with acid-generating waste, it would allow tailings ponds with other materials that may not be acidic but “can still be extremely dangerous.”
The draft of the proposal will be posted on the state agency’s website — www.maine.gov/dep/land/mining/ — for public comment, and the BEP will next meet Nov. 17.
Bertocci, the BEP analyst, said the board members should plan to discuss several issues in the future as they prepare to vote on the rules, including whether they want to send comments to the Legislature about issues with the law.
The law, for instance, specifies that discharges of mine water into groundwater are permitted within the mining area, a provision that has been raised as a concern in many public comments.