On Tuesday, February 26, the Minnesota Senate Environment and Energy Committee approved S.F. 786 on a partisan 8-4 vote, sending the bill on to the chamber's State and Local Government committee, after chief author Senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) presented the bill.
Much of the citizen and industry testimony--and those testifying--were repeats from the joint hearing the week before. Schmit offered amendments that added a one-year statewide moratorium to the bill, addressing criticism of the original language by Land Stewardship Project.
Grassroots activists shared their concerns about air and water quality, property values, traffic, tourism and the potential destruction of the landscape.
Along with industry and heavy equipment representatives, Republican state senators were skeptical of the need for the bill--or any additional state oversight of the industrial sand industy.
Peder Larson, a lobbyist representing the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council (MISC), noted that the industry group supports "strong state standards" for environmental review that are already in place. Larson recommended spending the money that would go toward a statewide Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) on hiring more staff for state agencies with oversight of sand mining.
Aggregate and Ready Mix Association President Fred Corrigan, geologist Kristen Pauly, and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 Legislative and Political Director Jason George reaffirmed their testimony from a week before that the industry will great jobs balanced with environmental protection.
As the committee deliberated the bill, Senator Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) defended silica sand mining as both an "energy revolution" and "ag," insisting that rural Minnesotans simply accept dust, noise and smells. The activists who formed the bulk of the hearing room audience guffawed until committee chair John Marty (DFL-Roseville) gavelled the room silent.
A look behind the first grassroot's activist's testimony illustrates the complicated balancing act Schmit is trying to achieve with his bill, written at the request of his constituents dismayed by the environmental,safety and health effects of the "sand rush" across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin.
Beth Proctor, a professor at Minnesota State University who is a resident of Lime Township on the edge of Mankato in Blue Earth County, led off testimony. As the aerial Google view (above) from the Jordan Sands Environment Worksheet (Copy of report (large file 72 MB)) shows, Proctor lives close to the dry processing plant proposed for her neighborhood.
She recited a litany of questions she had asked the DNR about drinking water, aquifers and wet mining. She noted that the answers were uncertain, and that local governments were often unable to answer complex technical questions.
She also decried bullying by mining corporations:
And then we can add in the intimidation factors. We will sue you or we will ask to be annexed by the city or a different government unit.
All these factors combined illustrate the need for Schmit's bill
To summarize, to protect the people in these communities across the state, we must have a statewide moratorium which gives the state time to prepare a generic environmental impact statement and our regulatory agencies time set and strengthen standards for this industry.
Beyond that, townships and counties need help. Perhaps the PCA and the DNR could establish area teams that could provide assistance in reviewing industry applications. I don't mean at the end of the process. I mean during the process.
Perhaps a list of environmental consultants that don't play both sides of the fence could be developed. Believe me in this, trust is everything.
It's possible that one environmental consultant Proctor had in mind was Kirsten Pauly, who testified later in the hearing on behalf of MISC.
In January, KEYC-TV, Mankato's CBS/FOX affiliate, reported in Frac Sand Review in Lime Township that that Pauly consulted for Jordan Sands:
Residents of Lime Township get their first full look at a proposed frac sand processing plant.
It was a tough task to take on, as dozens of residents get a crash course in how frac sand is made, also learning about the environmental concerns over this particular process.
Numerous problems were mentioned in the environmental assessment worksheet, or EAW, from water to air to traffic.
The focus however, just may come down to a rare little bird.
Kirsten Pauly, a geologist who gave the presentation of the EAW, says, "The focus of the EAW then becomes the loggerhead shrike."
Jordan Sands listed several protective measures they would take to protect the protected bird.
Later in Tuesday's hearing, Republican senators started addressing questions about the state environmental review process to Pauly, rather than to state agency personnel who were on hand. Perhaps this line of questioning illustrates the lack of independence Procter testified undercuts the process--or Pauly's professionalism.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee has yet to schedule a hearing for Schmit's bill.
A few highlights of the testimony:
Watch or listen to the entire hearing at the Environment and Energy Committee's media page.
Photo: Google aerial of the site, from Jordan Sands' EAW, via the Mankato Free Press report, Sand plant impact study in: Lime Township will review.
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