Mining bill with environmental safeguards passes in Maine

June 6, 2013

A bill that proponents say would add environmental protections to the states water quality from openpit mining activities won initial support from the Maine House.

LD 1302, An Act to Amend the Maine Metallic Mineral Mining Act To Protect Water Quality, was approved by a 91-49 vote. It was introduced by Rep. Jeff McCabe, (D-Skowhegan) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of legislators, including six House Republicans. The bill would amend a mining law the Legislature passed last year to help the development of a potential copper-zinc mine on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County (Mining Engineering, Dec. 2012, pp. 38).

Supporters said the bill would protect water quality as well as taxpayers from clean-up costs after a mine is eventually closed. Opponents said the measure is too stringent and would hamper efforts to create jobs in Aroostook County, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Although there are no current applications for openpit mining in Maine, New Brunswick-based JD Irving Ltd. has been evaluating the potential of the Bald Mountain site.

According to estimates by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, a mine at Bald Mountain could create 700 jobs.

The bill would require independent analysis of cleanup costs and that all water treatment be completed within 10 years after a mine’s closure.

The bill would require the mine operator to commit adequate money for cleanup after closure. The money would go into a trust that the state could access immediately after closure.

The bill also would require that a mining applicant provide information about the number and duration of jobs it will create and an estimate of how many of the jobs might be filled with people from the Maine workforce.

The last mine in Maine was the Callahan Mine in Brooksville. More than 800 kt (880,000 st) of rock containing zinc and copper ore were removed before the mine was closed in 1972 after it ran out of material. It is now an EPA Superfund site, with an estimated clean up cost of $23 million.
A mine at Bald Mountain would be 50 times larger than the Callahan Mine, said Pete Didisheim, a lobbyist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

He said L.D. 1302 would reduce the potential of sulfuric acid and toxic metals, damaging Maine’s waters.

A mine is not a long-term economic development strategy, he said. “By definition, mining is a limited operation.”

The bill faces additional votes in the House and Senate.



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