Societal problems with significant technical content come to the Legislature regardless of our capacity to solve them. Interestingly, the legislative process can deal more effectively with a problem about which we know next-to-nothing than one we think we understand.
Only two of the one hundred eighty six legislators even had an awareness about the threat to our electrical transmission infrastructure from solar storms. Through the willingness of experts in the field to talk with the Legislature’s Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, the issue has been addressed through legislative action requiring the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to open an inquiry into the matter and solicit information and comments from industry and the public. The Legislature’s website has text and details for LD 131 which became Public Law Chapter 45 Resolves. The PUC is now accepting public comment on docket 2013-00415.
In contrast to the issue of electromagnetic pulse risk from solar storms or nuclear weapons, the Maine Legislature has never been able to deal with environmental and health risk from metal mining at any time from its beginning (late 1870′s) to the present day. Since 1918 there have been only two operating metal mines: the Callahan open pit mine in Brooksville (1968-1972) and the Kerramerican (formerly Black Hawk) underground mine in Blue Hill (1971-1977).
A history of Maine’s mining regulations, compiled by Bowker Associates’ Environmental Risk Manager, Lindsay Newland Bowker, can be found at: http://lindsaynewlandbowker.wordpress.com/
A significant pattern within this history is the absence of technical expertise being applied to the formation of enacted regulations. Mining regulations have always been primarily a political matter.
In 2012, the Legislature, under Republican leadership, enacted LD1853 which scheduled the replacement of mining regulations in effect since 1991 with a new set drafted by an out-of-state contractor to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In 2013, the Legislature, under Democratic leadership, considered four bills (that all failed) to substantially revise or repeal the action from the prior year. The draft rules, available on the DEP website (http://www.maine.gov/dep/land/mining/metallic mineral.html) will be subject to a public hearing at the Augusta Civic Center on October 17.
Neither the current draft regulations, nor the 1991 regulations, nor the proposed LD1302 regulations (defeated by one vote in the Senate this spring) were written to address the particularities of high risk sulphide mineral deposit mining contemplated at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County.
Meanwhile, at the Callahan “superfund” site, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and DEP are overseeing a decade-long remediation process to remove or bury the immediate threats to human exposure of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), to stabilize the mine tailings, and to refill the flooded pit with some waste rock. There is not now, nor is there expected to be, any work to remediate the contaminated groundwater, and therefore the mine site will forever be unsuitable for residential use.
A just-released report from Dartmouth College suggests that there remains an unknown source of heavy metal contamination from the site.
Contact me by phone or email: 326-0899 chapmanHD37@gmail.com