With Friday's announcement by Minnesota state senator Matt Schmit (DFL-Red Wing) that he and senators Sheran (DFL-Mankato), Dahle (DFL- Northfield) and Sieben (DFL- Cottage Grove) will introduce a frac sand regulation bill, and the April 1 (or sooner) resignation as Red Wing Mayor of Minnesota Industrial Sand Council Executive Dennis Egan, it might seem that the grassroots movement to demand regulation of the silica sand industry has gained the upper hand on this issue.
That remains to be seen.
What's clear is that the voices of rural Minnesotans seeking legislative relief are finally being heard. One of the strong voices to testify in last Tuesday's hearing was Land Stewardship Project member Vince Ready, a farmer from southeast Winona County near St. Charles, who traveled to the state capitol for the first time.
His letter to the editor, Frac sand mining regulation needed, was published online at the St. Cloud Times Saturday evening:
On Tuesday, I traveled to the state Capitol from my farm in southeast Winona County for the first time in my life. I was there with hundreds of my neighbors and other concerned citizens to let the Legislature know that it must act to protect Minnesota from the frac sand industry. . . .
. . .Recently, I drove a journalist around our township, touring the proposed mine areas for about two hours. In that time we passed just three other vehicles. We drove past dozens of farms — many owned by Amish — many cattle, horses and hundreds of acres of productive cropland. The families that live here now live in a safe, healthy, productive environment.
In addition, a frac sand processing plant is proposed in the nearby city of St. Charles that would be the largest in the United States.
If the proposed frac sand mines and processing facilities start their enterprise here, our environment and community are changed forever. What is now a scenic, safe farming community will become a heavily industrialized, polluted area.
We can’t leave regulating this billion-dollar industry to rural counties, cities and townships. We need state-level permits that work alongside local control to ensure pollution standards are being followed that protect the community. This concept of the state establishing a regulatory floor that local governments can go beyond if they wish is how many other businesses are regulated, including large-scale feedlots, ethanol facilities and solid waste facilities.
Visit the St. Cloud Times to read entire letter.
In addition to citizen activism, there's another wake-up call for Minnesota, in the form of a long feature article in the Star Tribune by Josephine Marcotty, Minnesota draining its supplies of water. Marcotty reports:
Minnesotans have always prided themselves on their more than 10,000 lakes, great rivers and the deep underground reservoirs that supply three-fourths of the state’s residents with naturally clean drinking water.
But many regions in the state have reached the point where people are using water — and then sending it downstream — faster than the rain and snow can replenish it.
Last year, Minnesotans used a record amount of water, fueling a rising number of conflicts from the Iron Range to Pipestone.
Now state regulators, who have never said no to a water permit, for the first time are planning to experiment with more stringent rules that will require some local communities to allocate scarce water. . . .
Silica sand mining--especially the processing required to make it ready for drilling rig use--is extremely water intensive.
In addition to Schmit's bill, Rick Hansen (DFL-S. St. Paul), a suburban legislator who still owns farm and hunting land in the southeastern Minnesota of his boyhood, has introduced HF 425, which would protect wellheads and scientific and natural areas in frac sand mining areas. Schmit is the author of the companion bill in the state senate.
The bills deserve more sponsors, committee hearings, and eventual passage.
Photo: Vince Ready speaks at a press conference Tuesday before the joint committee hearings on frac sand mining. Via Land Stewardship Project post, SE MN Citizens Travel to Capitol to Call for Frac Sand Moratorium & State Regulation.
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