September 21, 2017  
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Twice Defeated Metallic Mining Rules Faces Third Vote in Legislature
Twice Defeated Metallic Mining Rules Faces Third Vote in Legislature

Late in the 2012 legislative session LD 1853, a bill which relaxes ground water pollution and other regulations in the metallic mining statutes, was passed by a Republican controlled legislature. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) subcontracted the drafting of major substantive rules, implementing the new statute, to mining industry lobbyists.

The rules, which took a year to develop, were vetted by the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) before being sent to the legislature. There they were directed to the Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) committee for action.
by Lew Kingsbury

In 2014 the Democratic party held a majority on the ENR committee and was co-chaired by Rep. Joan Welsh (D). The committee was evenly split on the mining rules along party lines with Rep. Welsh holding the swing vote. The rules bill left the committee essentially unchanged.

After much pressure from both sides, Rep. Welsh joined the rest of the Democrats on the committee in supporting a majority report with an aught not to pass recommendation. The rules bill was defeated in the legislature.

The 2014 election returned John Martin of Eagle Lake to the legislature after his close defeat in 2012. Rep. Martin co-sponsored the LD 1853 mining bill. The House Democratic leadership replaced two members on the ENR committee who had voted against the mining rules with Rep. John Martin and Rep. Robert Duchesne. Both are mining advocates.

During the 2015 legislative session the identical metallic mining rules were returned to the ENR for a second time for action. With two Democrat’s support, the rules left the committee essentially unchanged with a majority report stating aught to pass.

Non-profit environmental groups and grassroots environmental advocates put significant pressure on the legislature to reject the rules for a second time. Grassroots supporters hired Shenna Bellows and Hillary Lister to lobby for the bill’s defeat. Phone banks were set up and emails were written putting pressure on legislators to again reject the rules.

In the end, the 2015 rules bill was defeated by a 3-1 margin in both houses. Environmentalists thought the issue was over when the rules bill did not come up during the 2016 session. But Governor LePage had other plans. He had demonized environmental groups during his 2016 town hall tour as being jobs killers citing the mining issue.

The DEP, in the fall of 2016, recycled the rules again through the BEP. During the BEP public comment period the proposed mining rules received 441 public comments in opposition with only 2 comments in support. LePage appointed BEP members voted unanimously to send the rules as written to the Legislature for action.

This time the Legislature is faced with 9 bills associated with metallic mining. Seven were sent to the ENR for consideration with two associated with mining on public lands sent to the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) committee. One of the ENR bills, LD 820, was proposed by Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) to fix the 2012 mining statute.

Sponsored by Sen. Brownie Carson (D), the bill accepts the concept of ground water contamination. LD 820 proposes to amend the definition of "mining area" to an area of land from which earth material is removed in connection with the mining of ore. The 2012 mining statute clearly allows groundwater pollution within an undefined mining area. This proposed redefinition of the mining area accepts ground water pollution in an open pit mine or shaft mine.

This sets the stage for a spent open pit mine to have acid producing waste rock put back into the pit for permanent storage. This allowance is reinforced in the definition section on page 10 of the currently proposed mining rules. This definition states:

"Wet Mine Waste Unit" means a mine waste unit that uses water as a cover to minimize oxygen and diffusion to Group A waste in a manner that effectively inhibits the formation of acid rock drainage. Mine workings that are either partly, or wholly flooded after closure are not wet mine waste units.

Mine workings in this context are open pit mines or shaft mines. Once filled with a water cover, the open pit mine is left as a death trap for waterfowl and animals, with perpetual water leakage through fissures, opened by blasting, into the surrounding groundwater.

ENR Co-Chair Sen. Thomas Saviello (R) has stated that putting acid producing mine waste back into a played out open pit mine and allowing it to be covered with water is the best mine waste disposal method. Similar open pit mines have become ecological disasters and superfund sites. (google Berkeley Mine Montana)

The ENR committee has committed over the next three weeks to go over the seven pending metallic mining bills. Sen. Saviello has the votes to accept, in the majority report, LD 395 and LD 820, as written or as amended. The committee may also consider banning metallic mining outright under LD 160 or repealing the 2012 mining statute under LD 253.

NRCM, Audubon and other non-profit environmental groups have previously stated in their outreach emails and flyers that LD 820 is necessary to amend the 2012 mining statute resulting in mining rules that are environmentally safe. They have recently advocated to amend LD 820 to ban open pit mines and wet mine waste units.

Posted on Sunday, April 2, 2017 (Archive on Sunday, April 23, 2017)
Posted by Jym St. Pierre   Contributed by Jym St. Pierre
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