A bill motivated by the discovery of a $1.5 billion lithium deposit in Newry, Maine, thought to be the world’s largest, passed the Maine Senate Tuesday with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The estimated 11 million ton deposit was discovered in 2021, but the owners of the land Mary and Gary Freeman have been unable to begin extracting the lithium due to restrictions on open-pit mining in Maine’s Metallic Mineral Mining Act.
The bill, LD 1363, would allow open-pit mining under certain conditions while retaining many of the environmental protections currently provided in state law.
If signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills, active open-pit metal mines, currently restricted to three acres, would be allowed to be up to 100 acres.
Mining operations would still have to ensure that they do not generate waste that has the potential to create acidic or alkaline rock drainage that could violate the state’s water quality standards.
It also revises the definition of metallic minerals in the Metallic Mineral Mining Act to include other “rare earth metals” that are in high demand.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott Landry (D-Farmington) and cosponsored by a number of Republican Representatives, passed the Senate by a vote of 26 to 7.
Testifying in support of LD 1363 in an April public hearing, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Melanie Loyzim said that currently Maine has “one of the most stringent mining laws in the nation.”
“Now that lithium and so-called rare earth metals are in high demand for renewable
energy technology and other uses, and deposits of those metals are being found in Maine, we are faced with a question of balancing the fight against global climate change
with protection of groundwater and natural resources in our backyards,” Loyzim said.
Loyzim said that the DEP could not guarantee that the mining of metallic minerals would not jeopardize the state’s ground water supplies, but that they would take a “careful approach focused on environmental risk.”
“The proposed change to the metallic mineral definition in LD 1363 is not a perfect solution, but is intended to focus changes to the law in a way that retains the Mining Act’s highly protective effect,” she said.