Augusta, Maine — On Thursday afternoon, the Maine Senate voted against a bill making changes to mining law that only a day before had received strong bipartisan support in the House of Representatives.
LD 1302, “An Act to Amend the Maine Metallic Mineral Mining Act To Protect Water Quality,” failed by an 18-17 vote. It was introduced by Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators, including six House Republicans. Supporters said it would have helped protect water from pollution caused by mineral mining while also protecting taxpayers from footing the bill for mine cleanup costs.
The Senate’s move makes it unlikely to pass, though it goes back to the House for further action.
McCabe said Thursday evening that he was disappointed that the bill did not pass, as he expected that it would be approved by at least a few votes. He said that he knew that Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would vote against it, but was surprised when Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, also spoke out against the bill. He said the senators had questions related to parts of the bill related to certain regulations.
Jackson couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday evening, but stated the previous day that he could not support the bill as written. He said he wanted more assurance that Maine’s environment will be protected over time. He added that new rules for proposed mining are to be written by the state Department of Environmental Protection and presented to the Legislature for approval in early 2014, so he will wait and make his voice heard then.
The majority report on LD 1302 amended the mining law enacted during the final days of the 2012 legislative session, spurred by Canada-based Irving Corp. potential interest in pursuing a 600-acre open-pit copper and zinc mine on Aroostook County’s Bald Mountain.
Maine has not had an operating metal mine since 1972, when the Callahan Mine in Brooksville was closed. Maine and U.S. taxpayers are still paying cleanup costs for the Callahan Mine today, 40 years since the mine closed, and total cleanup costs are estimated to reach $23 million. Maine taxpayers are stuck with 10 percent of the total cleanup costs.
LD 1302 incorporated provisions from policies adopted in other states, including Michigan and New Mexico, in an attempt to ensure that new mines use best industry practices.
The bill required independent third-party verification of cleanup costs and that mines be designed to avoid wastewater cleanup extending decades into the future. Specifically, the bill required that all postclosure water treatment be completed within 10 years of the mine’s closure.
Besides Bald Mountain, significant mineral deposits that could be mined in the future also are located in Penobscot, Washington, Piscataquis, Somerset, Franklin, Oxford and Hancock counties. The ore deposits are found in sulfide rock formations, which can generate sulfuric acid runoff from a mining operation and harm rivers and streams.