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Maine House rejects proposed overhaul of mining regulations, wants department to redo them

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine's House of Representatives supported a measure Monday that would reject the proposed mining regulations drafted by Republican Gov. Paul LePage's administration and direct it to re-submit new rules for consideration.

The Department of Environmental Protection's proposed mining regulations, crafted following renewed interest in mining metals in Aroostook County's Bald Mountain, have come under fire from environmental groups who say they don't include strong enough protections.

The Democratic-led House voted 98-39 to ask the Department of Environmental Protection to rework the rules and submit them to the Legislature by February 2016. The bill faces further House and Senate votes.

Metallic mining operations have remained dormant in Maine since the '70s, but J.D. Irving Ltd. purchased Bald Mountain in the late 1990s and has been exploring the possibility of mining there.

The company pushed to overhaul the state's mining regulations because it said the current rules are so restrictive that it would be nearly impossible to mine there.

Supporters say that mining will bring much-needed jobs to northern Maine and that the rules comply with the law signed by LePage, which put in motion the mining rules overhaul. The department has said the rules were based on science and provide adequate environmental protections.

But some lawmakers said Monday that the promise of jobs is not enough to risk the future of Maine's natural resources.

Rep. Janice Cooper, a Democrat from Yarmouth, wondered if a few job are worth it to Aroostook County, "as well as the rest of the state whose brand is the beauty of our hills and mountain and seashore."

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