Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Winona County Frac Sand Mining Ban

Decision Marks 3rd Time Ban is Supported in the Courts

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Supreme Court today upheld Winona County’s landmark ordinance banning frac sand mining. The court ruled that Winona County acted fully within its rights when it used its zoning authority in 2016 to prohibit industrial mining operations. This latest ruling upholds a District Court ruling issued in 2017 and an Appellate Court ruling issued in 2018.

“This ruling further affirms that our government belongs to the people and exists to take bold action to protect the common good, for both people and the land,” said Johanna Rupprecht, an organizer for the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), which worked with Winona County residents on a 17-month grassroots campaign to put in place the frac sand mining ban. “This ruling affirms the power that organized people have, acting through our local governments, to protect our communities from harmful, extractive industries that would place corporate profits above communities’ well-being. Winona County residents fulfilled their responsibility to act together and make sure elected officials protected the common good, and the courts have repeatedly supported that right.”

Frac sand corporation Minnesota Sands, LLC, which refused to disclose the identities of its owners and backers, had challenged the ban in court as an attempt to circumvent the will of the people in Winona County, according to Rupprecht. The Supreme Court has now upheld that the Winona County ban is fully within the Constitutional rights of a local government, ruling against Minnesota Sands’ claims that the ordinance violated the Commerce Clause and created a “taking” of property from the company.

“The destructive frac sand industry has no place in the kind of economy we need for our rural communities to thrive,” said Barb Nelson, who lives outside of Lewiston in Winona County and is an LSP member who helped lead the campaign to pass the ban. “People took action to pass this ban because we understand that the land has inherent value, and that the health of the land and of people are interconnected. By destroying the land, we also harm ourselves.”

LSP submitted an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to make sure the interests of its Winona County members were fully represented in the court process.

“Today’s ruling is an inspiration to people in all communities fighting back against corporate power and organizing to prevent harmful, extractive proposals, whether they are frac sand operations, factory farms, immigrant detention centers or others,” said Rupprecht. “People have the power, when we work together, to protect our communities and to achieve a vision for the future that upholds our values.”

The Minnesota Supreme Court opinion can be read here.