In an important new development in Minnesota's evolving frac sand drama, Red Wing beat reporter Brent Boese at the Rochester Post Bulletin reports in Red Wing senator seeks state funding for silica mining study during the coming special session:
While the silica sand issue has been brewing for more than a year in southeast Minnesota, Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, is now seeking to make it a statewide discussion.
The first-term senator sent a letter Monday to Gov. Mark Dayton asking that the state conduct a Generic Environmental Impact Statement to help local counties identify and address health and safety concerns related to silica mining. Howe, who represents three of the five counties in the state that have adopted moratoriums on silica mining, has asked that the state provide up to $1 million to the Environmental Quality Board to conduct the GEIS.
"I believe the state should give the counties and townships and municipalities some guidance on dealing with this mining and transportation of silica sand," Howe said Monday evening, noting St. Charles is also his district.
In the event that Dayton calls a special session, Howe hopes his request will be one of the items discussed.
Read the entire article at the Post Bulletin. Boese closes the story by noting that Sig Anderson, an engineer, urged that Howe champion the study. Anderson has a long history of clean energy activism in the Red Wing area, described in detail in the pages of this pdf from the Minnesota Project.
As Bluestem has noted before, citizen concern about frac sand mining in Goodhue County doesn't fall along partisan lines; Hay Creek Township, ground zero for the moratorium movement among local governments in Southeast Minnesota, votes reliably Republican.
Although an ALEC member, Howe is known for breaking ranks with conservative orthodoxy on local control. A Land Stewardship Project action alert noted his approval of Carla Nelson's amendment that stripped away language to limit local control that was in the Vanderveer bill:
On April 3, the bill weakening local control, Senate File 270, came up on the Senate Floor, met with strong opposition, and failed to pass.
Floor Amendment Strips Out Provisions in the Bill Weakening Local Government Power to Enact a Moratorium
Immediately after the bill was brought up, Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester) offered an amendment that removed all the language limiting the ability of local governments to enact a moratorium. This was a change in position for Sen. Nelson, who had voted for the bill in the Senate Local Government Committee earlier in the legislative session. Sen. John Sterling Howe (R-Red Wing) rose in support of the amendment, which then passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 57 to 6 (see vote results below).
Even then the Bill Fails
What was left in the bill was language placing restrictions on development agreements between municipalities and developers. Sen. Tony Lourey (DFL-Kerrick) and Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) raised strong concerns with this. Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport) urged members to vote against the bill. It could not survive its negative reputation and did not get the 34 votes necessary to pass. (Bills need a majority of all 67 Senators to pass. The final vote on the bill was 32 “for” and 31 “against”).
Grassroots Opposition Beat Corporate Special Interests
Every step of the way, Senate File 270 met with strong grassroots opposition from citizens, township officers, county commissioners and city officials. They all delivered a version of this message: “Minnesotans value local control and do not want corporate rights to trump community rights.” The bill as introduced dramatically weakened the power of local governments to enact a moratorium. A moratorium allows local governments to quickly put a temporary freeze on major development. This power is essential when the community is caught off-guard by unanticipated and potentially harmful proposals, especially those from corporate interests and outside investors, such as frac sand mines, big box stores like Wal-Mart or a large-scale factory farm.
After the end of the session, Minnpost's James Nord wrote in Freshman GOP Sen. John Howe took on big issues and, occasionally, his party:
But there’s a difference between Howe and many of the new hard-line Republicans who now make up a vocal minority of the Senate GOP caucus: Although he’s stuck to his principles, he’s also been willing to compromise, a rare practice for some Capitol politicians.
“Compromise shouldn’t be a dirty word,” Howe said when MinnPost visited him in his district recently. “It’s not about compromising your principles. It’s about standing with your principles and yet achieving a result that you can get done.”
Howe has partnered with DFLers – and pretty much anyone else — in an attempt to help shape several key pieces of legislation passed over the last two years. If not for the realities of political maneuvering, his efforts may have stuck — on the Vikings stadium bill, on Voter ID and on statewide tax policy.
It's hard to say whether Dayton and the legislature will take up this cause; Dayton's new MPCA commissioner has stated that he feels that frac sand mining is no different than traditional gravel and sand pits. If the study is approved, will Howe bird-dog it to make sure the best interests of his constituents are represented--and will he have the clout to rein in energy and mining special interests?
Whatever the case, a start in the right direction.
Photo: Senator John Sterling Howe.
July 2012 Sixth Anniversary Bleg Notice: Like what you're reading on this blog? Help support an independent voice from Greater Minnesota:
Please consider using the paypal button above (checks accepted; email for my snail mail address) or something from my modest wish list (mostly coffee and cat treats).
The blegathon will run through July.
Sally Jo Sorensen
Editor and Proprietor