2017-05-18 / Editorial

Should mining be allowed in Maine?

Legislative Lowdown
by Rep. Martin Grohman

In Biddeford, we have a long tradition of quarrying for granite. A hike through Clifford Park or Blandings Park Wildlife Sanctuary will show you many places where this quarrying, a form of mining, has historically taken place. However, that’s fairly small scale mining compared to what has been done elsewhere in the state and country, where entire mountaintops have been removed, not for granite but for copper or coal, among other resources.

Maine does not have deposits of coal, but there are considerable amounts of mineral ores, which are useful in the production of metal alloys. There’s even gold and silver. And mining is currently allowed. There have been problems, however. The Callahan Mine in Brooksville hasn’t operated since 1972, but Maine taxpayers are still paying for the cleanup at a cost of $1 million-plus per year. Our current mining law, updated in 2012, is widely considered not to have adequate environmental safeguards or financial protections to prevent another Callahan mine. That is why many of us in the Legislature resisted approval of rules to permit mining to take place under the existing law.

However, our legislative rejection of proposed mining rules has created a confusing legal situation. Basically, we said we wanted tougher regulation, but the laws in place do not allow that – they protect mining operations.

If we just leave the weak existing law on the books, as is, then the chance of widespread future open pit metallic mining in Maine (with the corresponding poisonous tailings ponds and high cleanup costs), remains a risk. And attempts to repeal all mining, ban it, set a moratorium, or ask for a study would be successfully vetoed at this point. Even if we did have statewide support for a mining ban, a flat, simple ban or moratorium could easily reversed with political change. On the other hand, if we can agree on a compromise and pass it into law, we can hopefully find that balance between environmental protections and a regulatory structure that lets clean, safe, bonded mining operations be successful. There are significant mineral deposits in Franklin, Hancock, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset counties that could also attract the interest of the mining industry, and if appropriately done, create jobs without damaging our environment.

Do you think the compromise makes sense? This is a controversial issue with many viewpoints. I’d like to hear yours – please contact me.

Rep. Martin Grohman (D-Biddeford) is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature. Outside the legislature, he is chair of the Solid Waste Commission in Biddeford, and the owner of a small company called Hellocycle which does alkaline battery recycling by mail. Grohman especially supports business growth and entrepreneurship. Sign up for updates at www.growmaine.me or facebook.com/ repgrohman or call 283-1476.

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