AUGUSTA, Maine — Rather than approve large-scale metallic mineral mining rules that have been under development for a year, the Maine House of Representatives Monday voted to send the rules back to state regulators for a do-over.

The lopsided vote came over the objections of an Aroostook County representative who said the move would kill desperately needed jobs.

“Mining has to do with jobs in northern Maine,” said Rep. Allen Michael Nadeau, R-Fort Kent. “Just load me up with some EBT cards, load up about 20,000 of them and I’ll hand them out to my constituents.”

EBT cards, which are the focus of an anti-fraud initiative by the LePage administration, are essentially debit cards that are used to distribute state welfare programs such as food stamps.

Despite arguments such as that one, the mining rules, which were developed by the Department of Environmental Protection and recommended by the Board of Environmental Protection, were rejected with a 98-39 vote in favor of LD 1772, a resolve which sends the rules back to the DEP for reconsideration.

Chief among the arguments against the rules was that they don’t adequately protect Maine’s groundwater and other natural resources and that they don’t require enough financial guarantees from mine owners to ensure that the sites are cleaned up after a mining operation is over.

“We must make sure that taxpayers are not held responsible for cleaning up sites for decades, as has often happened in our state,” said Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, who chairs the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The committee recommended against the new mining rules in early March with an 8-3 vote, with Democrats in the majority.

Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, who is also a member of the Natural Resources Committee, said she and others believe the mining rules do not conform to the content of LD 1853, a bill passed in 2012 that called for development of rules to restart a mining industry in Maine that has been dormant for decades. Though that bill stemmed from a stated interest by Canadian timber company JD Irving Ltd. to mine for copper and zinc on a 500-acre site it owns on Bald Mountain in Aroostook County, the rules would apply to all of Maine.

Grant said one of her biggest problems with the rules is that the citizen-led Board of Environmental Protection loosened some of the rules that were proposed by the DEP. Among them is a clause inserted into the rules that would have allowed post-closure water treatment around a mine “for 30 years or more.” The rules also would have allowed the existence of “wet mine waste units,” which are essentially pools of mineral-contaminated water, by not classifying the pools as mine waste.

“Groundwater must not be contaminated outside the mining area and acid ponds must not stand in perpetuity in our state,” said Grant. “It is clear that the law enacted in the 125th Legislature was drafted to protect Maine from mining. These rules fail to do that.”

Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington, also a member of the Natural Resources Committee, disagreed.

“I hope you consider that those rules were made by departments which abided by the law. … If you don’t like mining, then change the law,” said Campbell. “Don’t do it through rulemaking.”

LD 1772, the bill that passed through the House Monday, requires the rules to be rewritten and submitted to the Legislature by Feb. 1, 2016. The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.