Augusta, Maine (AP)—The Maine Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) approved new mining regulations in January that advocates say will weaken land and water protections and won’t protect the environment from sulfuric acid and other toxins.
Renewed interest in mining of gold, silver, copper and other metals in Aroostook County’s Bald Mountain triggered 2012 legislation requiring the overhaul of the state’s two-decade-old mining regulations.
The Democratic-controlled state Legislature, however, will have the final say on the new rules, which could be the subject of a heated battle.
The Department of Environmental Protection, which drafted the regulations, has said the rules are based on science, meet the requirements of law and protect the environment. But some environmentalists are angry over what they say are insufficient protections.
The final BEP rules opened up some conservation land to underground mining, allowed mining companies to potentially treat contaminated water in perpetuity, and allowed mining companies to start construction without providing full financial assurances—although those financial obligations must be fully met before mining can commence.
Nick Bennett from the Natural Resources Council of Maine said the BEP made some last-minute changes and ignored hundreds of public comments calling for stronger rules.
But any mining operations are likely years away. J.D. Irving Ltd., owner of Bald Mountain, says it still doesn’t know if mining is feasible and that any mining operation is at least five years away.