For the third year running, the Department of Environmental Protection has proposed new metal mining regulations to the Board of Environmental Protection that protect no one but mining companies. Last Thursday I was among 23 citizens who testified at a BEP hearing, all against. DEP employees and the state geologist were the only ones in favor. This is an abridged version of what I told the board:

I have personal experience with mining. I grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, once the coal capital of the country, near an exhausted anthracite breaker and its huge tailings pile. It was ugly, but we were fortunate since it never caught fire. Many of the piles did. The fires can burn for decades, stinking, causing respiratory disease, peeling paint off houses; some communities never recover.

DEP and the mining companies will say, “Oh, that was a different era, that was not Maine, and coal is not the resource here.” True, yet the basics are the same. Corporations drop activities that lose money, find a way to avoid the consequences, and leave local taxpayers on the hook for cleanup costs.

That is what happened in the coal region. It happened at Callahan Mine, closed since 1972 and still fouling the beautiful Brooksville area. It will happen to Bald Mountain. An area must get an irrevocable bond that is more than sufficient to pay for ALL potential remediation. These regulations do not come close; it is an open question whether any upper bound can be put on the cost of mining’s damage. Can any price be put on permanent damage to an area’s air, land, water or people?

Is there anywhere in the world where extensive mining did not leave significant damage, or where the mining company paid for complete remediation? Is there one single case?

Neil Gallagher