Carson’s bill would protect taxpayers and environment from mining hazards

Posted: March 20, 2017 | Senator Carson

AUGUSTA — A bill by Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, would amend the state’s metallic mining law to protect taxpayers and provide stronger environmental protections for Maine.

The bill — LD 820, “An Act To Protect Maine’s Clean Water and Taxpayers from Mining Pollution” — was among several mining bills presented Monday during public hearings in the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

A controversial 2012 law, spurred by JD Irving LTD’s interest in beginning new mining operations in Aroostook County, required the state to develop new rules to allow metallic mining in Maine. The Legislature has twice rejected rules proposed by Gov. Paul LePage’s Department of Environmental Protection, citing inadequate environmental protection. Sen. Carson’s bill is being presented as the DEP is trying for a third time to craft rules.

Sen. Carson’s  legislation would put strong environmental protections into statute, guaranteeing that any rules crafted by the DEP would follow legal requirements to safeguard Maine’s environment. The bill would ban mining in, on or under public lands, and would protect floodplains, lakes, rivers, coastal waters, and wetlands from the hazardous effects of mining. It would also require mining companies to pay enough money up front, as determined by a third party, into a trust to clean up worst-case spills or accidents. Lastly, the bill requires that any future changes to Maine’s mining rules written to implement the law receive an affirmative vote from both houses of the Legislature.

“Too many times, mining companies have wrecked surrounding environments, declared bankruptcy, and left the public with hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs,” said Sen. Carson, former Executive Director of the Natural Resource Council of Maine. “Cleanup at the Callahan Mine site in Brooksville, where 5 million gallons of toxic waste were poured into the local ecosystem,  is still underway today — 40 years after the mine closed. We must not let this expensive mess happen again in Maine.”

Callahan Mine is an open-pit mine site located adjacent to and beneath Goose Pond in Brooksville that closed in 1972. Earlier this year, a settlement was finally reached that would facilitate the cleanup of the Callahan Mine Superfund Site.

Macauley Lord, a registered Maine guide from  Brunswick, spoke about the importance of protecting Maine from the risks caused by the kind of weak mining rules found in other parts of the country.

“I’ve fished four rivers in the American West where mine waste wrecked what were once spectacular sport fisheries,” Lord said. “All four of the fisheries are recovering, but slowly, and only after great cost to taxpayers, who’ve been forced to foot the bill for their rehabilitation. As federal taxpayers, even we in this room are paying for the ongoing cleanup of those streams.”

Alice Bolstridge of Presque Isle was among the many Aroostook County residents who testified in support of the bill. Bolstridge  grew up in Portage, not far from the Bald Mountain site that has been eyed for mining operations by JD Irving since the 1970s.

“Mining at the Bald Mountain site and other toxic sites in Maine must never be allowed unless or until trustworthy evidence exists that is will be done without risk of catastrophic damage,” said Bolstridge. “That evidence does not exist at this time.”

Nick Bennett, a Staff Scientist at NRCM, also spoke in favor of the bill. Other organizations supporting the measure include Trout Unlimited, Maine Conservation Voters, and Maine Audubon.

LD 820 faces further action in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, and votes in the House and Senate.