Something astonishing is happening in the Maine legislature. On April 29th at 9:00 AM , LD1059, a bill , aptly titled “An Act To Protect Maine’s Environment and Natural Resources Jeopardized by Mining” will almost certainly result in repeal of Maine’s 2012 Mining Statute. It will come before the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources at a public hearing by the end of this month.. LD1059, written and sponsored by Chipman and 6 members of the Joint Standing Committee on Environmental and Natural Resources (Gatwick, Harlow,Chipman, Cooper, McGowan and Grant)was referred to Committee by motion of co-chair Boyle. Tom Saviello ,an eager supporter of the mining statute and still a member of the Committee, is not a co-sponsor nor are any of the other Republican members.
LD1059 will correct a deeply flawed and badly informed decision the Committee made last year in sending this lobbyist written metal mining statute to the floor for a vote.
PL2011 C.653 is recklessly irresponsible statute with the potential to expose Maine to virtually limitless unfunded public liability and environmental harm. Repeal will give this Committee and other Committees of relevant jurisdiction in the legislature a chance to properly consider, in partnership with Mainers and global mining experts what constitutes sound public policy for metallic mining. We need to govern metallic mining in a manner that will see us forward and weather us against the changing winds of political administrations and politics. The public financial and environmental risks of metallic mining are far too consequential , fiscally and environmentally to be at the mercy of politics. The repeal of our mining statute is not a political act. It is an act that takes us in the direction of possibly building a sound well informed policy framework for metallic mining in Maine.
Of more immediate importance, timely enactment of LD1059 will literally pulls us back from the brink of possible disaster at Bald Mountain if JD Irving is allowed to proceed with advanced explorations there under DEP’s recklessly irresponsible new rules just approved in house at DEP by Commissioner Aho and now awaiting approval in the office of Maine Attorney General, Janet Mills. JD Irving had previously announced plans to begin advanced explorations there as early as this June.
I gather it is customary for lobbyists and corporate interests to use the rush and confusion of end of session to drag surprise trojan horses into the legislature. This particular statute came in as a bill with bipartisan support on behalf of JD Irvings interest in mining at Bald Mountain. To mention the democrat sponsor and the back story on that would lead away from what matters most to Maine: sound governance and wise policy informed by science and experience for managing the enormous public fiscal and environmental risks of modern metallic mining..
Pierce Atwood and mining interests falsely lead the Committee to believe that new technology had now made modern metallic mining safe and that needed jobs and economic vitality would be created in a part of Maine that has suffered long years of economic hardship. There was no opportunity for public comment or public scrutiny. It was done and passed in the blink of an eye. I have no doubt that when the bill left committee last year every member that voted for it believed they were doing right. Believed they would create needed local jobs. Believed this was good for Maine. Believed it really is possible with “modern technology” to do metallic mining with absolutely no risk to the environment and believed the framework they approved would accomplish all that. The Natural Resources Committee now realizes those were false beliefs.
The bill that was passed last year in fact completely deregulates metallic mining, completely removes and disempowers all oversight. It essentially says “leave it to the experts..they’ll give us reliable self inspection reports, keep us informed and do all the rights tests and we can trust that nothing bad will happen. “ It is completely out of line with a growing consensus among mining experts world wide on the conditions that constitute a” viable mine” and on the relationship between the private sector and government required to actually undertake a metallic mining operation especially in sulfide ores as we have at Bald Mountain and other likely mining sites.
By “viable mine” of course I mean in the larger sense of public costs and public risks. I mean a workable balance between private and public interests. Viable to a mining company means an automatic tripling of value to be able to offer a permitted mine for sale that is in “advanced exploration” under “relaxed and friendly oversight”. Viable to a mining company means extracting as much metal at as much profit as possible as soon as possible and being out of the picture out of the chain of responsibility when the damage starts to observably and measurably unfold years later. In Blue Hill, decades after it closed, we still have no mitigation plan for the Callahan mine, no means of funding its multi-million clean up. Our statute is way too slack on managing the public risks of mining and way too trusting and generous to land owners and mining interests. It is a jumble of confused and internally self contradictory rhetoric. No real teeth or science supporting the framework.
Here is an example of the kind of changes made to accomodate metallic mining throughout the many protective statutes in place. Sec. 15. 38 MRSA §480-D, sub-§3, 3. Harm to habitats; fisheries.was amended as follows:
“The activity will not unreasonably harm any significant wildlife habitat, freshwater wetland plant habitat, threatened or endangered plant habitat, aquatic or adjacent upland habitat, travel corridor, freshwater, estuarine or marine fisheries or other aquatic life.
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. The department may consider alternatives associated with the activity, including alternative design and operational measures, in its evaluation of whether the activity avoided and minimized impacts to the maximum extent practicable”
Translation: Mining is presumptively highest and best use of land and whatever is the most common technology is deemed to be the most feasible least harmful technology. Sound public policy?
At the heart of the enormously complex science and risk management of modern metallic mining are four immutable facts
(1) The metallic minerals left to recover in the earth are at almost microscopic levels. A typical “viable” gold mine anywhere in the world on average requires 2 tons of ore to yield 1 ounce of gold. ( It is even less at Bald Mountain)
(2) The disturbance of sulfide ores causes complex bio chemical and geo chemical reactions that can trigger uncontrollable non mitigatable releases of sulphuric acid and other toxics.
(3) The science and technology for accurate prediction of harmful releases and of when after intial disturbance they will occur is still very imprecise because of the unique profile of ores , climate and weathering conditions mine to mine and even within different areas of a given mine.
(4) Cyanide heap leach processing cannot be made safe and is the almost universally used means of extracting microscopic levels of metal from sulfide ores because it is the cheapest and simplest.. Cyanide, it is now well known, persists in complex toxic compounds at harmful levels not accounted for in standard waste management protocol and no one has invented a leak proof tear proof lining system .
There is an emerging consensus amongst global experts that the best available approach is a pre permit assessment of the potential to generate harmful releases focused on risk avoidance and maximum possible certainty. In other words, knowing what is likely to be ahead, knowing the costs and availability of necessary technology to manage identified risks, developing an agreement with the mining company that holds them accountable to full responsibility for providing that technology all the way through, possibly permanently, a strict standard of no off site harm, fail proof financial security guaranteeing performance of the agreement.
Our mining statute does not take this approach. It requires no suitable standards for pre assessment of risk . no pre-permit agreement on the technology that must be used to mitigate and control risks, no adequate standards for the mining company’s/key personnel performance history and no adequate financial security on performance to protect the public interests. It fails across the board. It must be repealed.
Our other major problem is that our DEP/LUPC rules and the rules for mining on state lands in place before enactment of Maine’s ill advised, mining statute are also woefully out of date with this science and technology and it would be just as disastrous to have a mine permitted under these old rules. DEP’s new rules for exploration and advanced exploration are dangerously and recklessly worse than the rules previously in place. What we need is a moratorium on all mining activity except that research which will give us better information about the risks and potential benefits of metallic mining in Maine, especially the acid generating potential at our major mining sites; Bald Mountain, Alder Pond and Mt Chase.