We Fell Short on our Legislative Goals, but Important Progress was Made
During the recently adjourned session of the Minnesota Legislature, frac sand provisions were passed and signed into law, but they did not include a moratorium or a hard setback from trout streams. The provisions were part of the Omnibus Environment and Agriculture Finance bill signed by Governor Mark Dayton this week.The Senate floor vote on a setback from trout streams for frac sand mines ultimately did not happen. Before the vote could happen, Gov. Dayton met with industry representatives and withdrew support for a hard setback of a mile. After that, legislative leaders, industry representatives and state agency representatives developed provisions short of that, which were eventually added into the omnibus bill. (Details on those provisions are below.)
We Called for Legislation that put Rural Communities Before Corporate Profits
We started the legislative session calling for a comprehensive approach to the threat the frac sand industry poses to southeast Minnesota. We called for an in-depth study that would be used to establish strong state-level regulations and appropriate fees and taxes. We wanted a moratorium to be in place while the study was being conducted and regulations adopted. This approach would also keep local control strong, allowing local government to keep their right to set stronger controls if they felt they were necessary
We had a Big Impact at the Capitol
LSP members and others packed hearing rooms. At the first three hearings, the rooms were filled to capacity with more supporters in overflow rooms. Literally busloads of southeast Minnesotans and others were at the Capitol to demand strong action. We garnered front page coverage in the Star Tribune, the Winona Daily News, the Winona Post, Red Wing Republican Eagle, the Rochester Post-Bulletin and many other papers time and time again. The Winona Daily News and Star Tribune weighed in with editorials in favor of what we were working for. Dozens of letters to the editors from around the region were published.
The Movement to Control Frac Sand Mining was Strengthened
Local activists from around southeast Minnesota came together time and time again and made deeper connections on bus rides to the Capitol. The Land Stewardship Project, Save the Bluffs, Houston County Protectors, Winona Area Citizens Concerned About Silica Mining, Minnesota Trout Unlimited, Friends of Wabasha, Audubon Minnesota and others worked as an effective and unified coalition. The new documentary The Price of Sand was shown to crowds who moved from education to action.
Sen. Matt Schmit of Red Wing took up this Cause with Us
Sen. Schmit authored legislation that put a comprehensive approach forward, incorporating all the elements of what we wanted. Sen. Schmit pushed to the end to get as much passed as possible. Without his leadership, it is likely that no meaningful legislation would have passed. All the other legislators from the heart of southeast Minnesota — Sen. Jeremy Miller (Winona), Rep. Greg Davids (Preston), Rep. Gene Pelowski (Winona), Rep. Tim Kelly (Red Wing), and Rep. Steve Drazkowski (Mazeppa) — all sided with frac sand interests in opposing a moratorium, and none proposed any meaningful legislation on the issue.
Provisions Pass that can make a Difference if
Implemented Aggressively by the Dayton Administration
In the end, we did not win the comprehensive approach that was necessary to fully protect southeast Minnesota. Here is a summary of the most important pieces that did pass and how they could be helpful if aggressively implemented:
- In southeast Minnesota, frac sand mines within a mile of a trout stream are prohibited unless granted a “trout stream setback permit” from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR Commissioner testified at the legislature that a mile setback is necessary to protect trout streams. We need the DNR to be consistent and deny these permits.
- Local governments can now extend moratoriums on frac sand facilities until March 2015 regardless of how long moratoriums have already been in place. Before this provision was passed, state law limited local moratoriums to two years at most and some local governments are approaching this limit.
- The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) must create rules to address silica dust from frac sand projects. We need the MPCA to use this authority to set an ambient air quality standard that is enforceable at the property line of the frac sand facility.
- The DNR must create rules for reclamation of frac sand mines. Among other things, this must include posting a bond so that frac sand companies that go out of business or go bankrupt don’t shift this reclamation cost onto the public.
- For two years, the threshold for environmental review for frac sand mines is lowered from 40 acres to 20 acres and the environmental review requires studies dealing with water quality and quantity, air quality and traffic impacts.
- During this two-year period, the Environmental Quality Board must update its environmental review rules to better address the frac sand industry. We need to ensure that, among other things, the new rules set strict standards on cumulative impacts and defining as one project multiple mines that will be operated or managed by the same owners.
All the provisions that passed in the bill can be found here. If you have other ideas about how these should be implemented or how they can help on the ground let us know.
The test of these provisions will be, “Do they make a difference on the ground?” That will depend on how aggressively the Dayton administration implements and enforces these laws. We will be pushing for the DNR, MPCA and Environmental Quality Board to use this new authority to put the well-being of rural communities before profits for the outside investors driving the frac sand industry.
1. Contact Governor Mark Dayton at 651-201-3400 or 800-657-3717, or e-mail him here.
Suggested message: “I was disappointed that in the end you did not support a hard setback of a mile from trout streams for frac sand mines. These most sensitive areas of southeast Minnesota should have been clearly put off limits to the frac sand industry. We know from looking at western Wisconsin that without strong regulation the frac sand industry will pollute our air and water, destroy our roads and harm the local economy. The Legislature has now given the MPCA, DNR and Environmental Quality Board new authority to control the frac sand industry. I am calling on you to direct these state agencies to adopt strong controls that put the well-being of the community before corporate profits for the frac sand industry. I want you to make it clear that the DNR’s policy should be that issuing “trout stream setback” permits for frac sand should happen rarely, if ever. Also, the MPCA needs to establish an enforceable air quality standard for silica dust at frac sand facilities. This needs to be monitored at the property line and if exceeded, the operation needs to be shut down until it can comply. Long-term exposure to silica can cause serious health problems, including silicosis.”
2. Thank Sen. Matt Schmit via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing him at 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Capitol, Room G-24, St. Paul, MN 55155-1606. Let Sen. Schmit know you appreciate that he stood with us and fought to the end even when that meant standing up to powerful special interests and some Senate leaders. The bills he authored gave us the opportunity to fully address the scope of the problem, to show the depth of local opposition to the frac sand industry and what a comprehensive state level solution would look like.