AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Environmental and fishing groups that have opposed rules to jumpstart mining in the state are now backing efforts to strengthen existing laws and regulation.
Mining is technically legal in Maine, and officials approved a law in 2012 calling for an overhaul of mining rules.
But J.D. Irving and other companies claim it's impossible to mine in Maine because lawmakers have twice failed to approve rules proposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection. J.D. Irving helped shepherd the 2012 law and owns a copper, zinc, silver and gold deposit buried at northern Maine's Bald Mountain.
Dozens of people from northern Maine and elsewhere testified largely in opposition to the latest rules during an hourslong public h earing Monday.
Opponents referenced the 2014 environmental disaster at the Mount Polley copper and gold mine in Canada, and Maine taxpayer funding toward the cleanup of the abandoned Callahan Mine in Brooksville.
"For-profit companies should not be allowed to compromise the lands that we all own and are subsidized by our taxes," said Deb Stahler, a retired state chemist.
Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Commissioner Melanie Loyzim called the latest rules "comprehensive." Robert Dorsey, of Aroostook Partnership for Progress, said mining could provide hundreds of jobs in a community marked by a declining population.
Lawmakers will decide whether to pass the rules and consider other mining bills.
The citizen-led Board of Environmental Protection, which reviewed the rules, is for the first time recommending legislators tackle confusing parts of existing mining law.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine helped craft Democratic Sen. Brownie Carson's bill to ban mining on public and protected lands and require mining permit applicants to provide financial assurance for a worst-case catastrophe.
Democratic Rep. Bob Duchesne said he hasn't gained support for his bill to ban the mining of massive sulfide ore deposits.
Bald Mountain's massive sulfide deposit has a high risk of releasing sulfuric acid and heavy metals when exposed to air and water.
"I understand environmental groups are trying to resolve this in a way that would make mining difficult and protect a lot of places," he said.
Brenda Commander, chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, said mining pollution would jeopardize the tribe's traditional harvesting and work restoring sea-run salmon to the upper St. John Watershed.
She said the rules fail to protect "invaluable, even sacred Wabanaki cultural resources" despite the tribe's repeated requests.