L.D. 1471: Mining rule change

Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Portions of Chapter 200: Metallic Mineral Exploration, Advanced Exploration and Mining, a Late-filed Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Environmental Protection.
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Opponents worry the changes will open the door to more mining in Maine, with potentially dire environmental consequences.
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Gov. Janet Mills approved changes to the state’s mining act that could make it easier to mine for lithium, a highly sought metal used in everything from truck grease to touch screens.

The rule changes, which Maine Department of Environmental Protection staff worked on since late last year, will allow the extraction of certain metallic minerals to be exempt from the state’s stringent mining regulations as long as a mining operation can prove that getting them out won’t pollute the nearby environment.

A resolution signed April 16 by Mills directs DEP staff to tweak the proposed regulations to limit the size of the open pit being mined to five acres at any one time, add requirements for PFAS testing and dark-sky compliant lighting, and, depending on a site’s geology, increase the minimum number of testing samples per acre from two to four.

Once the changes have been made, they will be brought to the citizen-run Board of Environmental Protection for final adoption. 

Supporters of the changes say the rule takes a science-based approach to mining for non-reactive minerals.

Opponents worry the changes will open the door to more mining in Maine, with potentially dire environmental consequences.

Read the full bill on the legislature’s website.

Here are some excerpts from testimony:

For:

“The amendments to the Chapter 200 rules … propose a way to deal with deposits that do not fit neatly into the existing types of regulation. … They would potentially allow for open-pit techniques to remove spodumene and other non-reactive metallic minerals, but only after characterization shows there is very low risk of environmental and human health impacts due to co-occurring reactive minerals.” ~ Nick Bennett, Natural Resources Council of Maine

“This bill sets regulatory guidance according to the potential environmental impact of mining different rock types. It also takes a science-based approach that considers the geologic differences among many types of mineral deposits in Maine rocks. This amendment would allow surface excavation of rocks of granitic composition but only if water quality standards are met.” ~ Stephen Dickson, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

Against:

“Lithium mining is environmentally and socially harmful. More than half the world’s current lithium production is very water intensive and takes place in regions blighted by water shortages likely to worsen due to the climate crisis. Although lithium extraction has been occurring for a relatively short period of time, this practice already has a track record of land and water pollution, ecosystem destruction, and violations against Indigenous and rural communities.” ~ Ezra Sassaman, Maine Youth for Climate Justice

“I encourage you to not change our current mining regulations creating opportunities to mine spodumene ore for lithium extraction. The commercial benefit to our state of the mining operations is questionable and the environmental consequences are beyond a doubt.” ~ Rep. Bill Pluecker, Warren

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Kate Cough

Kate Cough is editor of The Maine Monitor. She previously served as enterprise editor for The Monitor while also covering energy and the environment and writing the weekly Climate Monitor newsletter. Before joining The Monitor, Kate was a beat reporter for The Ellsworth American and digital media strategist for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. Kate graduated with honors from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Magna Cum Laude from Bryn Mawr College. Kate is an eighth generation Mainer, who lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, daughter, and dogs.
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