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Chippewa County Board votes on frac sand study support Tuesday

Jan 12, 2015

On the evening of Tuesday, January 13, the Chippewa County Board of Supervisors will have an opportunity to vote on a resolution in support of a citizen petition to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to do a strategic analysis of frac sand mining.

A “yes” vote from county supervisors reflects a simple show of support for the DNR to do a more comprehensive environmental assessment of the impacts of frac sand mining on Wisconsin communities. But the resolution may also represent the desire of county and municipal elected officials to make their voices heard on the growing frac sand mining industry. These local officials have seen attacks on their role as local decision makers in balancing the needs of economic development with protecting local residents' property values, health and quality of life.

Elected officials in city and county government must balance their power to permit industrial activity, build zoning plans for land use, and other decisions that impact the economic development of our local communities with private property rights and quality of life considerations of the citizens they represent. City and County governments can make decisions that enrich our local economies and make our communities places where we can enjoy living. But when faced with permitting decisions of industrial activities such as mining for frac sand, local governments need help to gather all of the facts about their legal rights to consider economic as well as health and quality of life impacts of mining to their local residents.

Unfortunately, though local governments are eager to take action that balances the needs of the community with those of the industry, local control over permitting frac sand mining in Wisconsin has been under attack for a year and a half. In October 2013, state legislators introduced Senate Bill 349 to disempower local governments from using their power to regulate frac sand mining or protect air and water quality. Strong bipartisan opposition to that bill from voters and local elected officials led to a weaker, but still problematic, Senate Bill 632 introduced by Senator Tom Tiffany in February 2014. Droves of people living in areas impacted by frac sand operations came to bill’s hearings with only two-days’ notice and very little time to plan a trip to the Capitol. Their desire to participate in policy making that directly impacts every aspect of their lives was clear. While that bill ultimately failed, we expect another attempt at passage in the next legislative session.

Why is there one attempt after another in the state legislature to keep local governments from regulating frac sand mining? The political influence of the corporations that stand to profit off of weakened state government oversight of industrial mining activity may be a place to look. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, political contributions of the industry increased 1200% between 2007 and 2012. While elected officials in state government are listening to the needs of frac sand companies, local politicians might be more accountable to the voters in their own communities. Chippewa County Board Supervisors are listening to local residents who were among the over 1,100 Wisconsin residents who signed the True Cost of Sand petition asking the DNR to do a strategic analysis of the frac sand mining industry, which is increasingly expanding in their area.

The only flaw in the Chippewa plan is in the weakened language on health risks. Citizens who demanded answers from our government by signing the True Cost of Sand petition are asking the DNR to provide more data to show how silica sand mining affects the air we breathe. Currently, the DNR is not requiring all frac sand operations to monitor for silica dust and the very fine particulate matter produced at these facilities. Without better monitoring, the true impact of these mines remains unknown.

In absence of good air quality data, we have to look to other studies of silica dust. Decades of research on the workers in silica sand mines and processing facilities has shown a clear correlation between exposure to dust and lung diseases like silicosis and cancer. These studies prompted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program to classify silica dust as a carcinogen since 1991 (PDF). Until we get more data and more studies on the impact of the frac sand mining boom on the ambient air quality in our local communities, the health risks to those living downwind of Wisconsin’s frac sand mines may not be known until more people start getting sick. Read more fast facts and follow the links to studies and information on the health risks posed by silica dust.

Chippewa County residents who wish to speak in support of the county board voting yes on the resolution in support of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to do a strategic analysis of frac sand mining may attend the board meeting on Tuesday, January 13 at the Chippewa County Courthouse room 302, 711 N. Bridge St., Chippewa Falls Wisconsin at 7:00 p.m. See more of the board meeting agenda online.

/ tagged: government, rural, mining, frac sand, frac, frack