On May 16, the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee approved an amendment to L.D. 1363. It would allow the developer of a mineral deposit to proceed under quarry rules instead of much-stricter mining rules, if the developer makes the case that they can extract the deposit without polluting the nearby land or water.

Lithium-bearing crystals found at Plumbago North in Newry. The crystals are among the largest of their kind ever found. Photo courtesy of William Simmons, File

This is a potentially dangerous exemption, because the owners of a deposit of lithium-bearing spodumene crystals on the north side of Plumbago Mountain in Newry, and their lawyers (who pressured the Department of Environmental Protection with a lawsuit), believe that the deposit at Plumbago is high quality and that extracting it won’t pollute.

If we make this exemption to the rules, it means there will be no legal restriction on its size and allow for sediment and turbidity to enter water sources through strip mining. Additionally, a mining company will potentially be able to evade any excise tax on metallic minerals that could be used to fund the mitigation of health and environmental impacts. Current Maine excise tax on metallic mining is the lowest in the country and has not been updated since the 1980s.

Maine policy explicitly stated in the 1940s encouraged mining for its economic benefits. It was believed then that mining would provide badly needed jobs. We’ve since learned that mining is a net job loser and that mine site remediation expenses from long-abandoned mining sites to Maine taxpayers are in the tens of millions of dollars for one site alone. Alarmingly, this action comes in tandem with the announcement that the Supreme Court is rolling back federal safeguards for wetlands under the Clean Water Act.

When the current metallic mining laws were put into place in 2017, environmentalists were led to believe that Maine would adopt laws to ensure human and environmental health and maintain the highest water quality standards. Making this kind of exemption in the rules compromises the possibility of achieving such a standard.

As amended, L.D. 1363 could allow for any person mining metals to fight for this exemption. Is this where we open the door to continuous fights against deep-pocketed industrial legal teams, setting up rural communities to be on the losing end? Why not put this energy into the recycling of metals instead of the continued destruction of mining fresh ones? Neither NIMBYism nor YIMBYism is the solution to such environmental harms.


If the Plumbago North lithium deposit were to be regulated as a gravel quarry, does it make sense to destroy the Grafton Notch State Park region, which is heavily dependent upon tourism, with many cleaner chemistries and technologies emerging to replace lithium? Deregulating metallic mining in the name of sustainability would be a sad irony, but it is apparently being pushed by industry to meet their profit goals in spite of the scientific reality that metallic mines pollute forever.

The Maine Monitor’s Kate Cough reported May 14:

“No changes are being proposed to the state’s quarry law, which has no limits on the size of the open pit, a fact that seemed to surprise some lawmakers. Quarry operators are required to notify the department every time they open an additional 10 acres, said DEP mining coordinator Michael Clark, but there is no limit on the size of the quarry pit they can have open at any one time.

“Clark did not have numbers on hand for the average size of a quarry in Maine when asked by the Monitor a few months ago, but said the state’s largest permitted quarry is Poland Quarry in Poland, which is permitted for up to 345 acres, with 75 currently open. The largest open quarry is Dragon Quarry in Thomaston, which has 120 acres open.”

Does the Maine DEP, which appears chronically over-extended, have the ability to fully monitor and enforce protections that would come with such a risky change to the law? Observing the recent fire at the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill, last summer’s permitting of increased water exports during drought and the disastrous widespread industrial sludge spreading, which has been known for decades to be harmful, leads one to question: Are we protecting health?

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