AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill to change the state’s mining laws has been passed by lawmakers and has been sent to Gov. Paul LePage for his consideration.
Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said Monday evening that LD 1853, An Act To Improve Environmental Oversight and Streamline Permitting for Mining in Maine, passed both chambers of the Legislature twice late last week.
Martin submitted the bill in early March, saying he was prompted to introduce it because of the increasing price of minerals and the potential for mining gold, silver, copper and zinc on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.
Bald Mountain is northwest of Ashland and Portage in Martin’s House district. J.D. Irving owns the land with Prentiss & Carlisle.
Under the bill, the state Department of Environmental Protection would be in charge of permitting and regulating such operations. The required rulemaking by the DEP likely would not begin until at least January 2014.
Martin said reports indicate that mining development at Bald Mountain could directly create up to 300 jobs and could indirectly lead to hundreds more. There also would be an excise tax on the minerals there, so the result would be more than $600 million in employment income and more than $120 million in state and local taxes, he said.
Environmental and conservation groups maintained their stance that lakes, streams and groundwater could be poisoned near Bald Mountain if there is not adequate public scrutiny or debate.
Several amendments were attached to the bill to protect groundwater and ensure that the mining process is even more environmentally sound, Martin said. The amendments also include requiring more documents and maps in permit requests and making provisions for the state treasurer to set aside a portion of excise tax revenues from mining operations to pay for overseeing mining activity.
Efforts this week to obtain comment from the governor’s office on whether he expects to sign the measure have been unsuccessful.