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Open Pit Mining in Maine


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What’s the issue?

In 2012, JD Irving (a large conglomerate active in many industries and Maine’s largest landowner) pushed a bill through the Maine Legislature to weaken mining pollution regulations in Maine.

In 2014, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a draft of new mining rules based on this faulty law. However, the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee quickly came to the conclusion that a strong majority of the Legislature opposed the proposed metallic mineral mining rules drafted by the DEP. The Committee voted along party lines and a strong majority of the full Legislature rejected the rules. The Governor then vetoed the bill rejecting the bad rules.

In 2015, the DEP resubmitted the same rules. Maine Audubon had serious concerns that the rules as proposed did not provide sufficient safeguards to minimize the potential adverse impacts of this type of mining in Maine.

In May 2015, by an 8-5 vote, the majority of the Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee voted in favor of amended rules (LD 750), which still would not have made DEP’s proposed mining rules protective enoughIt didn’t protect Maine’s clean water from mining pollution or ensure Maine taxpayers won’t pay for the messes mining companies leave behind.

The DEP has recently revised the rules and scheduled a public hearing to hear public comment on the rules.  While there are some improvements, the rules are not strong enough.

How would these dangerously weak rules affect Maine’s wildlife and habitat? 

  • They would allow mining on and under Maine’s spectacular Public Reserved Lands such as Deboullie, Nahmakanta, and Telos. The BEP should ban mining on, under, and near Public Reserved Lands.
  • They would allow tailings impoundments, the most dangerous type of mine waste disposal facility. Tailings impoundments contain toxic mine waste and processing chemicals, as well as vast quantities of water. Eighty percent of tailings impoundment dam failures occur during the active life of mines, not in some distant, future time. Tailings dam failures also happen at modern mines, such as the Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia.
  • They would leave Maine taxpayers on the hook for mining disasters, which happens far too often. Maine should not allow any company to mine that isn’t willing to pay up front for the cost of a potential disaster. Mining disasters frequently cost hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up, and companies often go bankrupt leaving taxpayers with the bill. Maine taxpayers are still paying to clean up the Callahan Mine in Brooksville, which closed in 1972. The clean-up is nowhere near complete, and the site is still contaminating the surrounding waters and fish. Maine cannot afford this kind of problem again.
  • They would allow even the most hazardous parts of mines—such as wasterock piles and tailings ponds—in floodplains and flood hazard areas. Mining is one of the most dangerous industrial activities. Allowing mines in areas vulnerable to flooding only increases the dangers of mining, and it makes no sense.

Why are we concerned about mining in Maine?

Protecting Maine from metallic mining pollution will help conserve our natural heritage and ensure that Maine people do not end up paying cleanup costs. Metallic mineral mining poses serious risks to Maine.

  • Mining operations could pose a major new threat to Maine’s rivers, lakes and groundwater.
  • Mining for metals like copper, silver and gold in sulfide rock deposits creates sulfuric acid and toxic runoff. This “acid mine drainage” pollution can devastate water quality and kill aquatic life.
  • The type of mining proposed for Maine has never been operated successfully without polluting nearby waters.
  • Mining companies are notorious for shutting down on short notice and leaving cleanup costs to taxpayers. The “boom and bust” mining cycle can shift huge cleanup costs to the public.
  • Maine citizens are still paying cleanup costs for the Callahan mine (Brooksville, Maine) that closed more than 40 years ago. The total cost of cleanup, paid for by Maine taxpayers, is estimated to reach $23 million.
  • Some sulfide mines generate pollution that needs ongoing treatment in perpetuity.

Background 

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In 2012, the Maine Legislature passed a bill that rolled back Maine’s mineral mining law. The mining industry has an extremely poor track record of polluting the environment and leaving taxpayers with the costs of clean up. Even out West, where it rains far less than in Maine, heavy metals from mines have contaminated the headwater streams of 40% of all watersheds.*

Proponents of the 2015 rules are considering mining Bald Mountain, in central Aroostook County. Should open-pit mining occur in that location, the impacts could be dramatic – the process of open-pit mining leaves large toxic acid ponds which could potentially drain through ground and surface waters into the Fish River and the Fish River Chain of Lakes, which provide some of the best brook trout fishing in the country. The acidity threatens water quality and aquatic life, as well as the larger wildlife habitat in the area.Open-pit mining in Maine could result in arsenic, lead and other toxic chemicals contaminating our lakes, rivers, streams and soils. Maine Audubon is concerned about potential adverse impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Although most of the discussion of open-pit mining in Maine has focused on Bald Mountain, Maine has significant metallic mineral deposits located throughout the state that mining companies could extract, including the Western Foothills, the Moosehead Lake area and Cobscook Bay. Please see the Maine Geological Survey’s map. The yellow areas on the map show volcanic and sedimentary rock deposits that are candidates for mining.

More Information »Maine Mining Watch is a collaborative project of Appalachian Mountain Club, Maine Audubon and Maine Conservation Alliance.

* Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Liquid Assets 2000: Americans Pay for Dirty Water