AUGUSTA, Maine - An ongoing debate about regulation of large-scale mining in Maine is now in its third year. After lawmakers rejected mining regulations advanced by the state Department of Environmental Protection last year, the agency opted to resubmit the same rules in February.
Now one lawmaker has advanced a bill that would place a moratorium on all mining projects until concerns about remediation costs and public safety are addressed. Rep. Ralph Chapman says the real problem with the DEP's proposed rules to regulate mining lies in their inability to safeguard the environment and the public.
The Brooksville Democrat says what Maine really needs are mining regulations that can tackle a worst-case scenario. "We need a regulatory structure that can prevent the problem, because we as taxpayers don't want to and an industry entity cannot pay for the damage that it could cause," Chapman said.
Chapman's bill, LD 750, would require the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to develop major substantive rules by January 1, 2017 that would provide the public with a greater sense of reassurance than those that are currently offered.
"The three major elements of LD 750 is the goal for geologic stability, the rejection of irresponsible applicants and high-risk processes, and the incorporation of third-party expertise and process decision points," Chapman said. "One additional matter, which is minor but important, is a moratorium."
"Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that what you really want to do is to put in a bill to outlaw mining in Maine, period?" said Rep. John Martin. Martin, an Eagle Lake Democrat, is among the critics of Chapman's 10-point proposal. And, for him, the moratorium is anything but minor.
Martin sponsored the original mining legislation three years ago after JD Irving Ltd. of Canada began weighing the development of a copper and zinc mining operation at its Bald Mountain property near Portage Lake in Aroostook County. Chapman said that, despite the moratorium provision included in his bill, he is not out to ban mining in Maine.
DEP Deputy Commissioner Heather Parent says Chapman's bill is unnecessary. "A moratorium should not be imposed on exploration in metallic mineral mining, and provisionally adopted rules apply appropriate and environmentally protective standards," Parent said, "and it's unnecessary for the department to re-initiate rulemaking to rewrite rulemaking that have already been developed."
Parent points out that the department's effort to develop an effective regulatory mining structure is already before the Legislature. And she says current recommendations address the type of preventative action sought by Chapman. For example, she says the DEP incorporated a series of early detection and correction measures that will prevent a mine from ever developing processes that would warrant large fines or stiff penalties.
Bob Dorsey, of the Aroostook Partnership for Progress, a business advocacy group, says the DEP's plans balance safety and the need for economic development. "I'd argue that now is not the time to say no to any opportunity in Maine or to put a moratorium on any of our natural resources," Dorsey said.
But critics of the DEP's mining rules - and there were plenty who testified at a public hearing Monday - argue that Chapman's bill is needed because the DEP's proposed rules seem to be crafted to meet the needs of the mining industry, rather than the interests of the environment or the public.
"DEP has written these rules to a standard called co-regulation, so that's what fundamentally wrong with the rules," said Lindsay Bowker, a Stonington resident. "Co-regulation means that you rely completely on the miner - the proponent - for the submission of all scientific information."
Members of the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee will continue reviewing mining regulation bills next month.