Both DEP and LUPC are about to implement draft rules under specific provisions of Maine’s ill framed lobbyist written metallic mining statute that are nothing short of recklessly irresponsible. Both agencies completely lack experience in mining and seem to have no knowledge of modern science, or of legislative and regulatory trends in metallic mining nationally and globally. This is a “bananaism of Maine” classic. LUPC’s draft rule will grant rezoning on demand on environmentally sensitive lands, which are presently zoned to preclude metallic mining. As written LUPC’s rule is a ”free pass”. It simply allows metallic mining. LUPC doesn’t seem to grasp that a rezoning of protected and sensitive eco systems for cross country ski trails, hikers huts or a radio tower is not at all in the same public policy dimension as rezoning for metallic mining. What is so fundamental and obvious to a professional planner, is simply not on the radar at LUPC.
At DEP things are pretty much on this same level. Their current rule will allow advanced explorations at half scale of full mining operations (5,000 tons of bulk sample), a level capable of setting off significant off site acid drainage (ARD) which could destroy lakes, rivers, wetlands, habitat, fish fowl and wildlife if the ore at Bald Mountain exceeds 0.05% total sulphur. Tom Saviello, former Co-Chairman of the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources is a major champion of the mining statute and of JD Irvings plans at Bald Mountain. He has been made aware of this hard, indisputable science and has apparently also simply chosen to ignore it as if proven science is merely on the same plane as uninformed opinion or the “greenwashing” myths Irving and the mining lobby are spreading.
Contrary to what John Irving and the mining lobby sold to our legislature, there are no new technologies, no known technologies that make sulfide ore mining safe at levels above 0.05% total sulphur. “Analysis of environmental impact statements for hardrock mines showed that 100 percent of mines predicted compliance with water quality standards before operations began. When researchers examined the track record of these mines after operations began, they found that 76 percent of them were actually discharging pollutants in excess of water quality standards. In addition, “mitigation measures,” or those efforts taken to remedy the discovered pollution problems, failed to do the job 64 percent of the time.
“Pollution problems from sulfide mines are not just an issue of old mines using old technologies. Acid mine drainage and toxic metal contamination are problems from modern mines using the latest technology as well” http://www.miningtruth.org/faq-sulfide-mining-minnesota-truth-report.pdf
These two rules being rushed into existence to accommodate JD Irvings announced intentions of beginning advanced explorations at Bald Mountain in June 2013, are bad policy that flies in the face of science and experience both nationally and globally. Both are recklessly irresponsible. There is no other description for either rule.
The two central public policy issues attending metallic mining that are being completely ignored by both DEP and LUPC in their draft rules are (1) only in ore with a 0.05% Total Sulphur or less (TS) is there no record of eventual substantial offsite harm from sulphuric acid (ARD)which forms when these ores are exposed to air and water. (2) cyanide compounds form as a result of cyanide heap leaching, the only feasible method of extracting gold from sulfide ores. These complex compounds persist for a long time especially in cold climates like ours.
George Mac Donald who is in charge of the rule making at DEP is fully aware of this indisputable science and also fully aware of this uncontrollable three decades old acid drainage event that happened during exploration operations in Minnesota far less extensive than what DEP’s draft rule allows:
“In the 1970s, a company called International Nickel (INCO) operated briefly, looking for nickel in an area southeast of Ely near Highway 1 and the Spruce Road. They drilled exploratory holes and at one site, dug up a “bulk sample,” essentially a “miniature open pit mine.” Almost immediately, the site began discharging pollution.
“The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency required the company to correct the problem immediately, resulting in some re-contouring and re-seeding of the site. The following year, contaminated seepage was still found to be discharging from the site…. In 2010, the INCO bulk sampling site was found to still be leaching harmful runoff. Lab tests showed levels of copper, arsenic and other metals above state water quality standards”. http://www.miningtruth.org/faq-sulfide-mining-minnesota-truth-report.pdf ( p4)
Our lobbyist written mining statute makes no reference at all to these scientific realities or to the fact that allowing any kind of deep drilling, explosions or excavations in sulphide ores with greater than 0.05% total sulphur poses a high risk of off site harm and raises the specter of the associated $billions in unfunded liabilities for taxpayers.
Here is what our mining statute says about harm to fisheries & habitat:
Sec. 15. 38 MRSA §480-D, sub-§3,
3. Harm to habitats; fisheries.
“….In determining whether mining, as defined in section 490-MM, subsection 11, will comply with this subsection, the department shall review an analysis of alternatives submitted by the applicant. For purposes of this subsection, a practicable alternative to mining, as defined in section 490-MM, subsection 11, that is less damaging to the environment is not considered to exist. …”
Translation? If metals are known to exist the highest and best use of the land is extraction.
A look at this USGS map of Bald Mountain, which must be known to DEP, Saviello and LUPC makes it plain as day that this policy makes no sense at all. With no disturbance at a
ll to the sulfide ores at Bald Mountain just natural weathering is creating sub surface run off of acid, sulphur and metals as far as 12 KM away.
.”Preliminary results indicate a significant atmospheric contribution of sulfate in the lakes around Bald Mountain”. http://pubs.usgs.gov/info/seal1/
It appears that the two relevant and just formed joint standing committees in the Maine legsilature don’t have these rules on their radar at all and that both agencies will just roll forward unless the public takes action and puts this on the front burner in time to avert disaster at Bald Mountain.
UPDATE: April 12th 2013
Both rules have been approved with substantive change. LUPC’s rule was the best hope as under the existing statutory scheme they are the gatekeepers. Mining is not allowed anywhere in the UT except via a sub-district rezoning. LUPC made the disappointing choice of simply cutting and pasting their existing and totally inappropriate rule on rezoning for mining to separate out what they considered land use/zoning ( retained) and what they considered permitting ( a DEP function, deleted from LUPC rule). LUPC had much more latitude than that under the existing statutory framework and for whatever reasons chose not to take it and deliberately chose to ignore all the science and study with bearing on their rule making than has emerged since 2000.
On LUPC’s behalf I must say they did an admirable job of summarizing and presenting all testimony presented ( it is up on their website for anyone to see), of summarizing it and stating why the information did or did not result in any changes. So the process was very transparent and the record of their deliberation is very clear and very accessible. That in itself is valuable and something I appreciate very much. LUPC though made no significant changes to the original draft that would in anyway improve the process of rezoning for mining.
DEP did not measure up on transparency. They too made no significant changes to their rule. But in contrast to LUPC they did not post all the statements as part of the public record and their “basis statement” ( a summary of why changes were or were not made based on testimony) was full of factual errors about existing and proposed provisions of the rule and misrepresentations and of statements made. I submitted a statement pertaining to only a few of my own statements. They refused to present this at the adoption hearing or to make it a part of official record on adoption proceedings unless I appeared in person to present it.( not what the applicable law requires or intends). DEP’s rule is now before the attorney general for approval and I have appealed to them to not approve until the veracity and accuracy of the “basis statements” is more fully explored.
Hopefully LD1059, a committee bill to have public hearings in late April will not only repeal the mining statute ( Maine Public Law 2011 c683) will include a moratorium on all mining activity except that research necessary to inform creation of a sound statutory and legislative framework for metallic mining.