By Jeff McCabe and Jen Brophy, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Metal mining is a boom and bust industry with a long record of polluting the water and leaving taxpayers to pay the cleanup costs in Maine and elsewhere around the country. More than 40 years after the Callahan mine in Brooksville shut down, for example, Maine taxpayers are still paying about $1 million per year for its cleanup. Although the mine ceased operations long ago, it is still contaminating nearby water and fish.
Mining is also inherently unsustainable because mining jobs disappear as soon as companies remove the ore from a site. If the mining industry wants to come back to Maine, it cannot threaten our long-term, natural resource jobs in fishing, guiding and tourism that rely on Maine’s world-famous brand.
We both work in Maine’s natural resource-based economy as registered Maine guides, the director of a regional park in central Maine and the manager of a sporting camp in Aroostook County. We know firsthand that jobs like these depend on clean water and a healthy environment.
Our clean waters serve as economic drivers all around the state, whether we’re talking about canoeing, rafting, swimming, boating, fishing or hunting. Residents and visitors alike cherish the opportunities for fishing and paddling on our lakes and streams.
We need mining rules that will protect our clean water, wildlife and public lands from mining pollution and keep Maine’s taxpayers from having to cover the cleanup costs if a company goes bankrupt. This is what happened at the Callahan mine and many others across the country. We cannot allow this to ever happen in Maine again.
The Legislature rightly rejected mining rules from the Department of Environmental Protection in 2014 because they failed to protect our lakes, rivers, streams and taxpayers. The Department of Environmental Protection submitted the exact same rules again in 2015, and the majority of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee recently voted in favor of these dangerously weak rules, with only slight alterations. We urge the Legislature to reject that bill, LD 750, and protect Maine’s clean environment and the jobs it provides.
The proposed rules would allow mining companies to drill under almost all of Maine’s coastal waters, lakes, rivers and streams and build processing plants and disposal facilities next to these waters. Lakes alone generate about $3.5 billion per year for the Maine economy and provide 52,000 jobs.
The rules disregard people who have houses or camps on lakes, and they won’t protect the jobs of fishing guides who need clean water in rivers and streams to support their livelihoods. Recreational fishing is an enormous industry in Maine, bringing in nearly $370 million in 2011, the latest year with data. Wildlife watching and hunting are also big business in Maine, worth $800 million and $200 million, respectively, in 2011, but our state parks, wildlife management areas, and other public lands will lose their appeal if there are mines close by, as the rules would allow. The jobs of many thousands of Mainers depend on strong protection of our public lands. These iconic places — like Deboullie, Nahmakanta and Telos — are part of Maine’s brand. Any new mining rules need to protect our public lands and keep the Maine brand intact.
Nothing substantive has changed between last year and this year. The Legislature is once again faced with mining rules that won’t protect good, natural resource jobs in our tourism, fishing and guiding industries. LD 750 won’t protect our coastal waters, rivers, lakes and streams, and it won’t protect our taxpayers. The Legislature needs to reject these rules just as it rejected weak mining rules last year. We have too much at risk to do otherwise.
Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, is the House majority leader, the director of a regional park and the former executive director of the Somerset County Soil and Water District. Jen Brophy is a licensed water resources engineer, president of the Maine Sporting Camp Association, owner of the Red River Camps in Deboullie Township, and an Aroostook County native.