The issue of metal mining in Maine and how it should be regulated has been debated numerous times in the Legislature, but never settled. Environmentalists and residents of Aroostook County converged on the State House Monday for another go.
Lawmakers are reviewing seven different bills. One contains provisional mining rules unanimously approved by the Board of Environmental Protection in January. It would allow mining operators to apply for a permit, and mining companies would have to provide proof that they have the financial means to pay for cleanup costs.
Other proposals either limit or ban metal mining altogether
Shelly Mountain, who owns a camp at Portage Lake in Aroostook County, is skeptical that any of the seven bills will reconcile differences between those who believe mining has economic benefits and those who worry its environmental hazards aren’t worth the risk.
“The onus is always on Aroostook citizens to trek down here. And when they do their concerns are always ignored in favor of environmental and industry lobbyists,” she says.
Mountain opposes revising mining regulations to allow mining at Bald Mountain in Aroostook. She was one of dozens who testified before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
Supporters of new rules argue that the current ones are so restrictive that no mine operator can apply for a permit. They include Bob Dorsey, the president of Aroostook Partnership for Progress, a group promoting business development.
Dorsey says mining at Bald Mountain would create hundreds of jobs, spur economic growth and curb population loss.
“We’re losing 1,200-2,000 people every five years. Between 2015 and 2025 we’ll lose 7,000 taxpayers,” he says.
One proposal, by Democratic Sen. Brownie Carson of Harpswell, allows mining but prohibits mining in or under lakes, rivers, wetlands and state parks. The Natural Resources Council of Maine-backed bill also requires mining companies to create a trust to pay for any environmental disaster that may occur.
The debate over mining has raged for years, but it intensified five years ago when a bill backed by Canadian corporation J.D. Irving sought to rewrite highly restrictive regulations that have existed since 1991.
Lawmakers are expected to review and amend the proposals throughout the legislative session.