The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a 78-page draft of new mining rules for the state that could change the rules of mining for the first time in 20 years. The final rules are expected to be published in early January 2014 and scheduled to be adopted by the Maine Legislature by July 1, 2014.
The DEP said that it is complying with 2012 legislation aimed at modernizing and improving oversight of Maine’s 20-year-old mining regulations. The new mining rules “will put in place a framework for the recovery of minerals in a responsible, respectful way that keeps Maine’s air, land and water clean,” the agency said.
Opposition to the new rules claim they favor mining companies too much.
“Among the areas to be addressed are ground and surface water protection, the management of waste rock and the inclusion of financial assurance mechanisms that will guarantee any proposed mining operation provides financially for adequate long-term closure and remediation,” said the agency.
The state’s largest landowner, JD Irving of St. John, New Brunswick, has expressed interest in mining at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County for gold, silver and other deposits. The metal are estimated to be worth as much as $7 billion, according to geologist John S. Cummings of Texas, who discovered the deposits there in the late 1970s, the Portland Press Herald reported.
DEP officials declined to comment on the draft, saying they were making the rules public prior to the Sept. 12 meeting of the Bureau of Environmental Protection so there would be time for public review.
Environmental watchdogs who have been tracking the legislation that called for the new rules since early 2012 said they found several proposed changes disturbing.
Most criticism focused on compatibility of mining with surrounding land use, ground water protection, financial assurances should a mining operation fail and less stringent requirements for cleanup of abandoned sites.
Under the proposal, mining is excluded in such places as national and state parks and historic sites, national wilderness areas and refuges, designated lands such as the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, state-owned wildlife management areas and public reserve lands and lots.
The Board of Environmental Protection will review the draft and then schedule a public hearing.
Written comments will be taken and possible revisions made before the board votes on provisional adoption of the changes.