AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources committee on Thursday rejected metallic mineral mining rules that have been under development for more than a year.
The committee endorsed a resolve, LD 1772, that essentially sends the rules back to the Department of Environmental Protection and citizen-led Board of Environmental Protection to restart the rulemaking process. The 8-3 committee vote was along party lines, with Democrats in favor of a do-over, and members of both parties said they expected the committee’s rejection of the rules to be upheld by the Legislature.
If that happens, the mining rules, which attracted hundreds of comments from members of the public who opposed them, will be put off for almost two years. A new draft of the rules would be due Feb. 1, 2016 under the measure supported by the committee on Thursday.
At issue was a lengthy set of rules that were called for in LD 1853, a bill passed in 2012. The legislation stemmed from an announcement by Canadian timber company JD Irving Ltd. that it wants to mine copper and zinc on a 500-acre site it owns on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County. However, the mining rules would apply to all of Maine.
Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, co-chairwoman of the committee, said after the vote that members of her caucus want more stringent rules than were unanimously endorsed by the Board of Environmental Protection in January.
“Many of us felt that they did not adequately protect the other laws we already have in place in Maine, as well as the citizens,” said Welsh, referring to the Natural Resources Protection Act, among other laws. “That was a difficult vote because we know how much work the department has put into these rules.”
Welsh said she has been flooded with comments from constituents who were almost unanimously against the rules.
“Everyone, especially from my district, has been asking us to send the rules back,” she said.
Jessamine Logan, a spokeswoman for the DEP, said the department believes the draft rules adequately protect the environment.
“As we have said all along, the draft rule we submitted to the [Board of Environmental Protection] for their review follows the statute and is a reflection of the hard work and countless hours [Department of Environmental Protection] staff dedicated to writing it,” said Logan. “It has appropriate environmental protections and balances economic consideration.”
Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said he has been working on the rules for two years since former Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, proposed LD 1853 in 2012. Martin was voted out of the Legislature in November 2012. Saviello said he wishes the original bill required the rules to be developed by a stakeholder group and lamented the fact that the Environment Committee didn’t include that provision in the resolve passed Thursday. Despite his vote against the resolve on the committee, Saviello said he will support rejection of the rules in the Senate.
“The protections in these rules are very stringent,” said Saviello after the vote. “I believe that the [Department of Environmental Protection] did a good job. My vote today means I believe in the quality of the work they’ve done. But I’m going to vote for [LD 1772] in the Senate. My conscience is clear.”