Responsible mining rules to protect the things that make Maine great


by Sen. Jim Dill

Last week, the Senate unanimously approved rules that will protect clean water, wildlife habitat and taxpayer resources from the potential hazards of metallic mining.
The rules we passed were the culmination of five years of effort by environment and conservation groups, lawmakers and the Department of Environmental Protection. The whole process began in 2012. Spurred by JD Irving’s interest in copper mining at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County, the Legislature passed a law requiring a review and revision of the state’s mining rules.
Mining can provide jobs and stimulate the local economy, but it can also wreak havoc on our environment and cost huge amounts of taxpayer money associated with cleanup and other mitigation.
That’s why in 2013 and 2015, the Legislature rejected rules crafted by DEP that did not adequately protect our state from the dangers of mining.
One need not look too far into the past to find examples of how under-regulated mining operations can jeopardize our state: Decades ago, the Callahan Mine extracted tons of copper adjacent to and underneath Goose Pond in Brooksville. Chemicals were used in the extraction process, and while Callahan ceased operations in 1972, the work of cleaning up more than 5 million gallons of toxic waste left behind when the mine closed continues to this day. So far, cleanup at the polluted Callahan site has cost taxpayers $8 million.
With so much on the line, it’s important to get mining rules right. Two previous versions of rules were rejected by the Legislature, in 2015 and 2013, for failing to adequately protect Maine’s environment and public health.
The law passed by the Senate last week, LD 820, is a major improvement on those earlier proposals. It does a few important things:
First, it bans the most dangerous kind of mining, open pit mining, and bans the storage of toxic mining waste in reservoirs that can pollute the environment by seeping into local rivers, ponds, lakes and floodplains. The bill also requires mining companies to provide up-front funding for the cost of any accident or spills, thus protecting taxpayers from footing the bill for incidents at a mine. Lastly, it requires that any future changes to the state’s mining rules be approved by the Legislature, rather than simply being greenlit by unelected bureaucrats.
Maine’s clean waters and pristine wilderness are not only part of what makes our state such a great place to live, they’re also big drivers in our economy. People from around the world flock to Maine to experience our great outdoors. Maine’s unique qualities are a job creator, and we need to ensure that it continues to be for years to come.
I was proud to support LD 820, to ensure that mining in our state doesn’t jeopardize the things that make Maine great.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, I’d like to hear from you. I can be reached by email or by phone at (207) 827-3498.