Maine mining rules face strong public opposition

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

November 21st, 2013 

Mainers are overwhelmingly lining up in opposition to draft rules for mining in Maine. According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, 248 individuals from all parts of the state have either testified in person or submitted comments to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to oppose the draft mining rules, while only 16 individuals have spoken or submitted comments in support of the rules. An additional 2,000 people signed a petition submitted by Maine Conservation Voters expressing opposition to weak mining rules.

At the public hearing, opponents of the rules outnumbered proponents by 58 to 11, based on sign-in sheets.

“DEP’s draft rules fail to provide the level of protection needed for Maine’s environment and taxpayers,” said NRCM Advocacy Director Pete Didisheim. “Clearly, the public is becoming increasingly concerned about the pollution and long-term financial costs that could result from metal mining in Maine. That explains the strong public comments calling on DEP to revise the draft rules to include stronger protections.”

The Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) currently is reviewing the draft mining rules and comments on those draft rules received during a public hearing held October 17 and submitted by a comment deadline of October 28. DEP has received more than 1,000 pages of comments on the draft rules.

Many of the commenters at the public hearing voiced strong concerns about the possibility that the Canada-based J.D. Irving Ltd. Corporation will pursue an open-pit mine at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County. Irving’s lobbyists strongly advocated for the 2012 law that directed DEP to rewrite Maine’s mining rules. Of the 16 individuals who have testified and/or commented in support of DEP’s draft rules, three are working for J.D. Irving (Aroostook Resources, Pierce Atwood, and Stantec Consulting Services) to secure changes in Maine’s mining rules.

Although Irving claims that a mine at Bald Mountain would create jobs for Aroostook County, many more people from Aroostook County have testified or submitted comments in opposition to the rules than in support. Only three individuals from Aroostook County have commented to BEP in support of the rules. Excerpts from Aroostook County opponents to the draft rules are provided below.

NRCM reviewed all testimony and public comments that have been delivered on the DEP draft mining rules, and catalogued each comment in terms of support and opposition.

The BEP will be meeting this Thursday, November 21, 2013 in Augusta to continue reviewing the draft rules and comments, and is expected to meet several more times before an existing January 10, 2014, deadline for submitting provisionally adopted rules to the Legislature. Final rules must be approved by the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, and then by the full Legislature.

Much of the discussion about mining in Maine has focused on Irving’s interest in an open-pit mine at Bald Mountain, which Irving President Jim Irving has described as a 100-acre open pit within a 500-acre mining area. In October, NRCM released a report Bald Mountain Mining Risks: Hidden from the Public, which documents the very high potential for sulfuric acid and arsenic pollution from mining at Bald Mountain. The report reveals information that DEP has in its files from previous companies that owned the mineral rights at Bald Mountain but decided against pursuing an active mine.

The draft rules developed by the DEP apply statewide and would replace existing rules that were put in place in 1991.