- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine legislators this session will decide once again whether to approve rules to jumpstart mining of Maine’s deposits of copper, zinc, gold and silver.

Officials passed a law in 2012 calling for an overhaul of mining rules. But mining companies say they can’t mine in the state because lawmakers have twice not approved rules proposed by the Department of Environmental Protection following concerns about cleanup costs and the strength of environmental regulations.

On Thursday, the citizen-led Board of Environmental Protection unanimously approved the latest rules, which were posted on a state website Friday. Now it’s up to a legislative committee to go through the rules and send them to legislators for a vote.

The board also decided to ask lawmakers to consider changes to mining laws to address issues like mining on public lands and flood-prone areas - which existing law allows.

Both critics and supporters say mining will lead to contamination. But Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration says its latest set of rules take into account hundreds of complaints and will allow mining in Maine while protecting Maine’s environment and taxpayers.

“There’s a lot of public opposition to open pit mining,” said Department of Environmental Protection representative Jeff Crawford. “It is neither prohibited in statute or the department’s existing rules.”

The 97 pages of rules lay out the permitting process for mining companies as well as environmental regulations, mining standards and a requirement for companies to provide the state with cleanup funds.

No one spoke in favor of the rules. Several individuals questioned the financial assurances that companies must provide, and said the rules don’t protect public health if a mining disaster happens.

Nick Bennett, a scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, questioned the rules allowing mining companies to put bits and boulders of mining waste underwater while mining a site.

“If you allow it during the life of the mine, you’re going to have it forever,” Bennett said, saying he doubted companies could or would dig the waste up and ship it elsewhere after the site’s no longer mined.

J.D. Irving was a primary driver of the 2012 mining law sponsored by Democratic Rep. John Martin to create jobs in northern Maine. The conglomerate owns land at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County estimated to contain at least 30 million tons of metals like copper and zinc as well as gold and silver.

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