A decades-long debate over the prospect of a metal mine in the mountains of Aroostook County will be rekindled Thursday as another proposed overhaul of state mining regulations receives a public hearing.
Opponents again are gearing up to voice their concerns about the potential for mining operations to release waste materials and naturally occurring toxins, such as arsenic and cadmium, from the soil into the surrounding waters and environment.
The Department of Environmental Protection is proposing revised regulations governing large-scale metal mining in Maine under legislation passed in 2012 to replace a 1990 law. Such mining operations haven’t existed in Maine since 1977. The new proposal, which has to be approved by the Legislature, would create permits for different levels of exploration and mining and set up rules for mining, waste disposal and long-term pollution control.
Though the 2012 law was prompted by a proposal to mine gold, copper, zinc and other metals at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County, the rules would apply to the entire state. In a summary of the regulations, the DEP said they offer “performance-based standards” and “requirements designed to prevent the contamination of surface and groundwater.” The Maine Board of Environmental Protection is holding a public hearing in Augusta over the proposal, beginning at 9 a.m. Sept. 15.
Nick Bennett, a staff scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the DEP’s proposed regulations “have not gotten significantly better” than the past two versions that were opposed by his organization and rejected by the Legislature. The process of creating an open-pit mine and extracting metals would create large quantities of wastewater and acidic rock, he said.
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