At Politics in Minnesota, Charley Shaw reports in Broadbased state regulations emerge for frac sand mining:
. . . Heading into conference committee, the Senate reached a deal to require frac sand operators to get a permit from the state Department of Natural Resources if the mine is within 1 mile of a trout stream. The permit approach was a compromise from an earlier proposal by Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, to prohibit silica sand mining within 1 mile of a trout stream.
“I don’t want to say I’m 100 percent satisfied, but I think this gives us a lot of tools to make a difference in southeastern Minnesota,” Schmit said. “The trout stream setback language we agreed to earlier this week is going to make a big difference in protecting the most sensitive regions in southeastern Minnesota.”
The bill makes lays the groundwork for establishing protections for more than just trout streams. Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, contended the trout stream issue was too narrow of a focus. He successfully pushed for the establishment of a model ordinance for local governments that looks at setbacks for things like wellhead protection areas in addition to trout streams. The standards also call for air and water quality protections for frac sand that’s in temporary storage.
The breadth of conference report, Hansen said, goes farther than any other state that has faced frac sand mining controversies.
“It’s the first of its kind, to our knowledge, in the country for silica sand. It’s comprehensive so we’ve got air, water—the whole picture,” Hansen said. . . .
Shaw reports that the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) will be leading the effort across agencies to set the standards and to provide technical assistance to local government. It's something, since the industrial sand mining special interests and hostile legislators repeatedly tried to cut out the EBQ from the mix.
Meanwhile, the state Chamber of Commerce's lobbyist whined to Shaw that the industry is unfairly singled out for its water use. Orchards use water, he noted, and they're not being asked to apply for water permits.
Bluestem agrees: the next apple orchard that strips off hundreds of acres of soil, digs a ginormous hole in the earth that's open for years, and washes sand should so be required to apply for a permit with the DNR. Fair is fair.
So what's missing in Shaw's report? The name of Senator Jeremy Miller (R-Winona). In Miller's misleading frac sand statement, a letter published in the Sunday Winona Daily News, local activist Jane Cowgill writes:
I couldn’t believe it when I read Sen. Miller’s statement trying to take credit for the frac sand legislation that passed on Monday. Getting out a press release taking credit for something he had nothing to do with is almost the only initiative he has taken on the frac sand issue.
. . . Miller was the key vote in committee killing the state standards proposed by Sen. Matt Schmit of Red Wing and Trout Unlimited, and endorsed by the DNR. These standards were the result of work with experts and would have put the most sensitive areas of southeast Minnesota -- those near trout streams -- off limits to frac sand mines.
The provisions that did pass are not everything we wanted, but some will be very helpful. Again we have Matt Schmit of Red Wing to thank for this. Schmit worked all session and moved bills forward even when some leaders of his own party disagreed with him. That’s because he was representing and fighting for his district. I can’t say that about Miller. He carried water for the frac sand special interests all session. Now he wants us to think that he actually cared about what his constituents wanted.
We aren’t fooled.
It will be interested to see whether the impressive grassroots organizing by citizens in Southeastern Minnesota will carry forward into electoral politics. Neither party will be able to leverage it, given the way the DFLers on the Range rushed in to prattle about the frac sand mining industry creating "empathy" for their region. Schmit's a clear winner in his first term.
Photo: Jane Cowgill at the state capitol, promoting protection for trout stream and other living things. Photo by John Kaul.
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