Colorado mining disaster shows Maine was right to reject mining rules — again – by Nick Bennett (Bangor Daily News – August 30, 2015)

Nick Bennett is staff scientist and watersheds project director at the Natural Resource Council of Maine.

2015 has been a year of seconds with respect to mining. For the second time, the Department of Environmental Protection submitted the same weak mining rules it submitted to the Legislature in 2014. For the second time, the Legislature wisely rejected them.

Also for the second straight year, a mining disaster occurred soon after the end of the legislative session and proved that the Legislature was right to reject DEP’s rules. On Aug. 4, 2014, the tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine in British Columbia failed, releasing billions of gallons of mining waste into pristine lakes and streams.

The effects of the pollution from this modern mine, which its owner built in 1997, will linger for decades in some of the most important salmon habitat in Western Canada.

After the Mount Polley disaster, many Mainers breathed a sigh of relief that the Legislature had blocked weak rules that would have allowed Canada-based J.D. Irving to mine at Bald Mountain. Weakened rules also could have threatened Maine by attracting global mining companies to exploit ore deposits located throughout the state, including within and adjacent to public lands; pristine rivers, lakes and streams; and prized wildlife habitat.

This summer, many Mainers are relieved again that the Legislature rejected DEP’s weak rules as the disaster at the Gold King Mine in Colorado has unfolded. On Aug. 5, 2015, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency team removed debris that was blocking an old mine shaft at the Gold King Mine and caused a major mining waste spill.

This and other mines nearby had been leaking highly acidic wastewater and heavy metals for decades, killing most of the fish in the upper Animas River even before the Aug. 5 spill. EPA was investigating the cause of the leaks in order to reduce their severity. Instead, they made the problem much worse — demonstrating, once again, that when it comes to mining, accidents happen. Despite claims by mining advocates that mining disasters are a thing of the past, they keep happening, both at new and old mines.

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