LD 1363 “An Act to Support Extraction of Common Minerals by Amending the Maine Metallic Mineral Mining Act” is moving at the speed of business not at the speed of caution
Written by Nickie Sekera | June 14th, 2023
(You can read a slightly shorter version of this article in the Portland Press Herald and the Kennebec Journal: link)
On May 16, 2023 the Environment and Natural Resource Committee approved an amendment to LD 1363, a potentially dangerous exemption in mining rules, so that lithium (spodumene with potential for other metallic minerals) can be extracted similarly to a gravel quarry. The land owners of the noteworthy Plumbago Mountain deposit and their lawyers (who pressure the DEP with a lawsuit), believe that the lithium deposit at Plumbago is high quality and won’t pollute. If we make this exemption in the rules, it means that there will be no legal restriction on its size and allow for sediment and turbidity to enter water sources through strip mining. Additionally, a mining company will potentially be able to evade any excise tax on metallic minerals that could be used to fund the mitigation of health and environmental impacts. (Current Maine excise tax on metallic mining is the lowest in the country and has not been updated since the 1980s.)
Maine policy that was stated explicitly in the 1940’s is to encourage mining for its economic benefits. It was believed then that mining would provide badly needed jobs. We’ve since learned that mining is a net job loser and that mine site remediation expenses from long abandoned mining sites to Maine taxpayers are in the tens of millions of dollars for one site alone. Alarmingly, this action comes in tandem with today’s announcement that the Supreme Court is rolling back federal safeguards for wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
When the current metallic mining laws were dubiously put into place in 2017, environmentalists were led to believe that Maine would adopt laws to ensure human and environmental health and with highest water quality standards. Making this kind of exemption in the rules compromises the possibility of achieving such a standard.
LD 1363 could allow for any person mining metals to fight for this exemption. Is this where we open the door to continuous fights against deep pocketed industrial legal teams, to potentially set up rural communities to be on the losing end? Why not put this energy into the recycling of metals instead of the continued destruction of mining fresh ones? Neither NIMBYism nor YIMBYism is the solution to such environmental harms.
If the lithium deposit at Plumbago Mountain were to be regulated as a gravel quarry, does it make sense to destroy the Grafton Notch State Park region (that is heavily dependent upon tourism) when there are many cleaner chemistries and technologies emerging to replace lithium? Deregulating metallic mining in the name of sustainability would be a sad irony, and is apparently being pushed by industry to meet their profit goals in spite of scientific reality. Due to historic and present practices, metallic mines pollute forever.
“No changes are being proposed to the state’s quarry law, which has no limits on the size of the open pit, a fact that seemed to surprise some lawmakers. Quarry operators are required to notify the department every time they open an additional 10 acres, said DEP mining coordinator Michael Clark, but there is no limit on the size of the quarry pit they can have open at any one time.
“Clark did not have numbers on hand for the average size of a quarry in Maine when asked by the Monitor a few months ago, but said the state’s largest permitted quarry is Poland Quarry in Poland, which is permitted for up to 345 acres, with 75 currently open. The largest open quarry is Dragon Quarry in Thomaston, which has 120 acres open.”
Does the Maine Department of Environmental Protection have the ability to appropriately monitor and enforce protections that would come with such a risky change to the law? The DEP appears chronically over extended. Observing the recent fire at the state owned Juniper Ridge Landfill, last summer’s permitting of increased water exports during drought, and the disastrous widespread industrial sludge spreading that has been known for decades to be harmful leads one to question: are we protecting health?
Collective impacts within our watersheds deserve careful and diligent consideration, and incidental penalties for non-compliance are not the same as protection. We can no longer afford compromises to adequate water protection standards. Clean water is above monetary value; it is more beneficial than any metal and is vital for it to exist in nature. A clear resolve to protect water is the recognition of a dignified human existence– and the truthful acknowledgement that humans rely on nature and not the other way around.