I was proud to sponsor a measure that would protect Maine’s water quality from metal mining pollution and even prouder when it recently won overwhelming bipartisan support in the Maine House of Representatives.
The bill, LD 1302, strengthened the state’s mining laws to protect our waterways and our taxpayers from future cleanup costs. It had bipartisan support, and its co-sponsors include six Republicans.
That’s part of the reason why the Senate’s vote against this bill was so disappointing.
Our waterways are a precious resource that require our steadfast guardianship. That’s why one of the open-pit mining bill’s key components was a requirement that applicants present an analysis of best practices in model mines in the United States and explain how such techniques would apply in our state.
Open-pit mining doesn’t take place in Maine now. But it may be coming, so we need to make sure that it’s done with the highest possible standards of the industry.
Bald Mountain in Aroostook County has been the focus of much attention in this debate. But this is not an isolated issue.
Now, it’s copper and zinc on Bald Mountain, but it may be only a matter of time before the mining industry starts eyeing other parts of Maine. Significant mineral deposits are located in other parts of Aroostook County as well as Franklin, Hancock, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset counties.
The minerals that mining companies are interested in are often trapped in sulfide rock formations. Sulfuric acid can result from the processing as can contamination by arsenic, lead and other toxic chemicals. The risks are even greater for a state such as Maine that gets a lot of rain.
Maine people care about clean water and the wildlife and recreational opportunities that depend upon it. Our waterways are an important part of our heritage, another example of how our prosperity depends on our stewardship of natural resources.
My bill included provisions to ensure that a mine is designed so it will not need wastewater cleanup in the long term. Any water treatment would have to be finished within 10 years of closure. Operators would also be required to put money aside to cover site cleanup and closure operations.
We need to remember our lessons from the Callahan Mine in Brooksville. It hasn’t operated since 1972, but taxpayers are still paying for the cleanup. Maine taxpayers are on the hook for 10 percent of the total $34 million cost.
We cannot afford to do this again. Not here today and not the generations that will come after us.
Information about mining jobs is also part of my measure. We all want Maine people to be able to get back to work and benefit from economic development.
Maine people deserve to fully understand the benefits and disadvantages of a mine operation proposed for their area. Applicants would be required to provide information about how many jobs the operation would create and an estimate about how many Maine workers could fill those positions. Mining operations elsewhere often bring in employees with specific areas of expertise, leaving few opportunities for area residents.
These are commonsense measures to protect some of the most valuable resources in Maine.
Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, is the assistant House majority leader.