New mining regulations for Maine that were first proposed in 2012 and shot down by democrat legislators in 2013 will be debated again, possibly clearing the way for the Bald Mountain project.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the debate pits New Brunswick-based J.D. Irving Ltd. and others against environmentalists over the future of Bald Mountain in northern Maine’s Aroostook County. Metal deposits were first discovered there in 1977 but remain untapped (ME, Dec. 2012).
J.D. Irving is the state’s largest landowner and was the main driver behind a 2012 law that directed state regulators to replace 1991 mining rules. The law’s proponents, including Republican Gov. Paul LePage, blame the regulations for stymieing mining development.
In 2013 the changes were shot down, setting the table for another go-around, which began with a public hearing on Feb. 25. The legislature is now split between a Republican Senate and a Democratic House.
The new rules would apply statewide, where the Maine Geological Survey lists eight sites with significant metal deposits.
The controversy has centered on Bald Mountain, which holds an estimated 33.8 million tons of ore, state geologist Robert Marvinney said. Maine’s last metallic-mineral mine closed in 1977.
John Cummings, 84, the geologist who discovered the Bald Mountain deposit, said many companies have tried to mine it in the past but were hurt by everything from corporate disagreements, low metal prices and, after 1991, tough rules.
Bob Duchesne, a Democrat in the Maine House who backed the 2012 law, said the old regulations instituted a complex permitting process and strict rules on water quality that effectively made it impossible to mine for metal in Maine, which also has deposits of silver, zinc and other metals.
Environmental critics say the new rules dial back water protection by imprecisely defining the size of a mining area and allowing open-ended wastewater treatment. That raises the risk of polluting area waterways, where trout are a prized catch, they said. Critics are also worried the rules don’t go far enough to hold mine operators accountable for long-term cleanup.