Legislature to hold hearing on mining rules, mining bills

Posted March 04, 2017, at 8:10 a.m.
Last modified March 06, 2017, at 6:40 p.m.

Mainers who want to tell lawmakers what they think about how to regulate large-scale metal mines in the state will have an opportunity during a public hearing on March 20.

The Maine Legislature’s Joint Environment and Natural Resources Committee is planning to hold a single hearing starting at 9 a.m. on Monday, March 20, to receive public comments on several mining-related bills, according to Dan Tartakoff, legislative analyst with the Maine Legislature.

One of those bills, LD 395, would allow for the Legislature to review and vote on whether or not to approve the Department of Environmental Protection’s third proposal for changing mining regulations under a controversial 2012 law.

That law, prompted by J.D. Irving Ltd.’s interest in potentially mining copper, gold and other metals in the North Maine Woods, required the DEP to draft new rules that permit a range of metal mining operations in the state. The Legislature has since rejected two versions of rules developed by the DEP, amid concerns that they lacked enough protections for water quality.

The other bills that will be the subject of the public hearing include measures that would modify or repeal the 2012 law, place a moratorium on metal mining or ban the practice of mining sulfide deposits, which contain naturally occurring water contaminants.

LD 253, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Chapman, D-Brooksville, would repeal the 2012 law and leave Maine with the current rules on the books, which were adopted in 1990 in the wake of pollution problems surfacing at former Callahan Mine in Hancock County. Environmental groups say those regulations have strong protections for water quality, while lawmakers and mining industry supporters say they amount to a de facto ban on large-scale metal mining.

The modification bill, LD 580, sponsored by Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, would amend the 2012 law to prohibit mining on a range of public and designated lands and address a number of water quality concerns raised by the public and environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The bill would change the 2012 law to require that “each mining operation or activity must have a defined mining area” and it would “limit the allowance for groundwater contamination within a mining area.” It also would prohibit mining operations in, on or under floodplains and flood hazard areas.

LD 160, sponsored by Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, would prohibit mining of some massive sulfide deposits, volcanic rock deposits that hold valuable minerals such as copper as well as acid-generating substances. The bill defines a massive sulfide deposit as a metal sulfide ore deposit with 1 million or more tons of “metallic minerals” as determined by the Maine Geological Survey.

Since the 1970s, several companies have considered mining the massive sulfide deposits at Bald Mountain, which is part of J.D. Irving’s northern Maine timber holdings, but never went any further than taking exploratory samples. Some environmental advocates argue that most if not all of the state’s sulfide deposits are too concentrated in naturally-occurring toxins and acidic rocks to be mined safely without affecting interconnected groundwater and surface water systems.

The Environment and Natural Resources Committee is hosting the combined public hearing on the bills “given the anticipated significant interest among the public and other involved parties,” according to Tartakoff, the legislative analyst. He said the committee will likely limit testimony from commenters to 3 minutes.

Clarification: LD 160, sponsored by Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, would prohibit mining of some massive sulfide deposits, volcanic rock deposits that hold valuable minerals such as copper as well as acid-generating substances. The bill defines a massive sulfide deposit as a metal sulfide ore deposit with 1 million or more tons of “metallic minerals” as determined by the Maine Geological Survey.

 

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