On September 14, fifty-four members of the Maine House and Senate signed a letter arguing that a public comment session be held in Bangor or southern Maine, in addition to the already scheduled location of Millinocket.
The comments have to do with the proposed rezoning of an area around Pickett Mountain near Patten in northern Penobscot County. This area is believed to hold unusually rich deposits of copper, zinc, silver, and other minerals, some of which are key to the manufacture of solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries for electric vehicles, among other important uses.
These legislators signed the letter asking the state’s Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) to offer other comment opportunities far away from the site of the potential mine, claiming to not do so would “discriminate against Maine residents without the money or time to travel to Millinocket.”
This argument is fascinating, since these legislators raised no such concerns about forcing those who wished to speak before them to travel to Augusta to provide three minutes of testimony each on issues such as abortion and forced vaccinations. Maine people did so in overwhelming numbers earlier this year knowing full well that Democrats on each committee had no intention of voting in their favor no matter how compelling their testimony or how many more people spoke against those bills than did in favor.
It seems clear that, to these legislators, preventing the mining of important minerals and the economic boost it would provide to Northern Maine, far exceed the life and death importance of other controversial bills.
Both the House and Senate chairs of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee signed the letter, even after shepherding new bills into law that expanded so-called “green” energy projects and initiatives that require massive amounts of minerals.
Pickett Mountain Copper and Zinc
“Simply put, the road to reaching net zero begins and ends with copper.” So says a recent report titled “The global copper market is entering an age of extremely large deficits.” In short, clean energy needs massive amounts of copper and the world is simply not producing enough.
The solution among Maine Democrats is more electric vehicles, more solar panels, and more wind turbines while staunchly preventing the mining of minerals such as copper and zinc that are essential to the expansion of these basic elements of clean energy.
By the year 2040, mineral demand from EVs and battery storage in the U.S. will grow somewhere between ten and thirty times the current rate, including an insatiable demand for copper. Democrats are fine with this, so long as the necessary minerals are produced in some far away land at the expense of some underprivileged and exploited group of people they do not care about.
Rather than allow Maine to show the world how mining can be done in an environmentally responsible way within some of the most restrictive mining laws in the world, those who seek to stop the Pickett Mountain project would leave the mining of copper, for example, to the children of the Congo in Central Africa who are toiling this very day in slave labor and hellish conditions.
Two days before the date of the Pickett Mountain letter an article by Amnesty International exposed the reality that “Industrial mining of cobalt and copper for rechargeable batteries is leading to grievous human rights abuses.” Meanwhile Democrats in Maine cry discrimination at the thought of forcing someone into “driving home after a late night in Millinocket” giving public comments.
Supercharging Demand for Copper and Zinc
According to the International Energy Agency, one megawatt of offshore wind capacity requires 8,000 kilograms (8.8 tons) of copper. Governor Mills has authorized her Energy Office to develop 3,000 megawatts from offshore wind. This will require 24 million kilograms or 26,000 tons of copper. That same goal will require 5,500kg of zinc per MW, or more than 18,200 tons.
On land, solar panels require copper to conduct the electricity generated and zinc to coat the panels. A solar array requires 2,800 kg of copper per megawatt. The relatively small 8.5 megawatt arrays that were installed at the Augusta exits of I-95 require 26 tons of copper.
Maine Could Take the Lead on Lithium, But Won’t
According to the International Energy Agency, by 2040, the world will need more than ten times the supply of lithium it produces today and perhaps as much as thirty times. Where will this come from?
The richest known lithium deposit in the world lies near Maine’s Plumbago Mountain in the Oxford County town of Newry. Geologists estimate that the mine could produce a billion and a half dollars’ worth of lithium, providing an enormous boost to the Western Maine economy, cleanly and responsibly. According to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, mining this type of lithium deposit “is comparable to extraction of limestone or granite,” something that was a safe and essential part of Maine’s economy for more than a century.
According to Time Magazine, the Newry site is “One of the few lithium deposits in the U.S. currently found in hard rock, which means it is higher-quality and faster to process than lithium mined from brine.”
Those who oppose extracting the lithium claim that piles of mining waste material known as “tailings” become exposed to air and rainwater creating toxic runoff. This does not happen in Newry, where water on the site has flowed freely over the lithium deposits for millions of years without polluting the environment.
“The water is so good” said landowner Mary Freeman, “Poland Spring wants to bottle it and sell it.”
Nevertheless, in 2022, State Rep. Margaret O’Neil, one of the signers of the recent Pickett Mountain letter, sponsored a bill to halt lithium mining in Maine for five years.
Under current Maine law, established in 2017 specifically in response to the potential Pickett Mountain site, the owners of the Newry deposit must apply for costly permits including a $500,000 “processing fee” just to file an application.
This past spring, the Maine Legislature passed a new law that may allow mining of the Newry deposit, but not until after a rewrite of the state’s mining regulations, a process that may take years and has traditionally been dominated by environmental groups who strongly support rapid shifts to things like electric vehicles while staunchly opposing mining for the minerals needed to make them.
The battery in a single EV requires one thousand times the minerals needed to create a cell phone battery. The harder environmentalists push for EVs, the more they push the need for mined substances, the demand for which has already reached the maximum ability of the world to mine and process.
By contrast, under Maine’s restrictive mining laws, production of copper and other minerals is a far more responsible thing for human beings to do than to continue to demand increasingly larger amounts of these minerals in the name of proper climate behavior while denying mining companies the right to responsibly produce the minerals of which we are demanding more and more.
What Maine climate hawks are saying to the world is, give us more and more devices, EVs, solar panels, and wind turbines, so long as the costs of mining the minerals needed to produce these is borne by the environment and the poor people and enslaved children of South America and Central Africa, not Maine and Mainers.
Democrats have no desire to “pay our fair share” of the mineral costs of clean energy.