Public to have chance to weigh in on Maine mining rules

December 4, 2013

Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) voted to open a 10-day public comment period that would allow citizens to weigh in revised mining regulations that would ease restrictions on mining in the state.

The public comment period will end just before Christmas and all public responses will have to be made in writing; no additional public hearing will be held, said BEP Chairman Robert Foley.

The revised regulations were drafted by the Department of Environmental Protection at the behest of the BEP and are the second set of regulations to emerge from the agency in the last four months. They would further ease restrictions on mining companies’ methods of operation. Several environmental protections and financial assurances for cleanup and site restoration if a mine is closed would also be relaxed, the Portland Press Herald reported.

“This (mining legislation) is a huge thing, one of the biggest things that’s come before the board ever, maybe,” said Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, House chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which is next in line to review the proposed rule.

Legislation passed in 2012 marked the first time in 20 years that Maine’s mining laws had been revised. That law directed the DEP to rewrite the existing mining regulations.

The earlier set of proposed regulations, written by the DEP and its consultant, North Jackson, was opposed by more than 2,000 Maine residents and organizations and supported by 16, including three from Aroostook County.

There are currently no permit applications submitted to the DEP for mining in the state, but J.D. Irving Ltd. of New Brunswick has shown continuing interest in extraction of gold, silver, copper and zinc at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.

If the revised regulations are approved, a mining company’s task would be rendered easier than under the DEP’s earlier proposed draft rule, namely:

• The department had required more demanding financial assurances so that Maine taxpayers would not be left to foot the bill for failed or abandoned mines. The BEP-sponsored new rule would allow a variety of options for mining companies, including irrevocable letters of credit and incremental payments into a fund that could be used by the state if a mining operation ceased or was abandoned.

• The DEP had urged that mining operations be kept at least 1.25 miles from any state or federal parks, protected bodies of water and reserved land. That protective corridor is proposed now to be cut to a quarter-mile unless the DEP deems a wider swath is needed.

• The DEP had asked for a 30-year maximum cleanup period; the new proposal allows for indefinite extensions, in 20 increments. 

A finalized draft rule is expected to be sent on to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee for review early in 2014.
 

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