Midwest Environmental Advocates is a nonprofit environmental law center that works for healthy water, air, land and government for this generation and the next. We believe that every citizen has the potential to make a difference.

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Frac Sand Bill Puts Interests of Industry First: SB 632 compromises citizen rights and local control

Mar 03, 2014

With two business days’ notice, state legislators are holding a hearing on a new version of a controversial bill to severely restrict the power of local governments to regulate frac sand mining in Wisconsin. Though the bill’s authors presented it as a compromise, the development of the bill has again left out meaningful citizen input and will have too many future consequences for local governments to successfully meet the unique and complex needs of their communities.

“Over the last three years, the vast majority of calls to Midwest Environmental Advocates’ legal help hotline have been from citizens and local officials trying to use their local decision making process protect their health, property values and compatible uses of land from the ravages of the largely unregulated frac sand industry in Wisconsin,” said Executive Director Kim Wright. “It is unthinkable for our state legislators to, once again, make this bill public one week and then hold a hearing within days on an issue so critical to the integrity of community life with no input from the people who are actually impacted by the industry.”

Property owners, farmers, and local elected officials alike want to know about ways they can protect their property rights and values when a frac sand mine comes to their community. They want to protect their health when frac sand mining creates cancer-causing silica dust. And they want to know what to do about other concerns related to increased truck traffic on roads, train traffic, noise and light from industrial facilities where there once were quiet country farms. Local ordinances and zoning are tools to help communities and industry strike a reasonable balance for the economic and environmental health of a community. This legislation takes that away.

Senate Bill 632:

  • severely restricts a local government’s ability to exercise their zoning authority or police powers (which protect citizens' health and safety) to regulate existing frac sand mine sites now and in the future,
  • prevents local government from prohibiting the expansion of frac sand mining activity onto any land that is next to an existing mine and under common ownership, regardless of the impacts the expansion will have on public health, safety and welfare,
  • prohibits local governments from regulating existing sand processing and transportation facilities,
  • prohibits local governments from making rules that would “prevent” the extraction of any non-metallic deposit once the deposit is registered. “Prevent” isn’t defined in the bill and could be broadly interpreted in the future. For instance, any type of regulation – even that which is protective of public health – that would make mining more expensive could be interpreted as “preventing” the mining of a deposit.

Senate Bill 632 (AB 816) comes on the heels of SB 349, a bill that was pulled from consideration after a very strong public response. The opposition to SB 349 came from citizens across Wisconsin, not only in areas where frac sand mining is common, and voters scrambled to organize busses to travel to Madison to testify against the legislation. Most voters waited for hours for their turn to speak, but had to board busses to return to their home communities after lobbyists and industry representatives were allowed to speak first and without time limits.

“Citizens are finding that their voices matter when local officials listen and they are attending local governmental meetings in record numbers throughout frac sand mining areas,” said Wright. “But while industry lobbyists continue to have total access to state legislators to consult on legislation written for their interests, the citizens and local elected officials who are most impacted by the exponential growth of a landscape-scale industry still governed by old laws designed for gravel pits and quarries are effectively shut out of the discussion.”

Senate Bill 632 is being heard in a joint hearing with the Senate Committee on Workforce Development, Forestry, Mining and Revenue and the Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Mining today at noon. Read MEA’s testimony on SB349.

Press release: Frac Sand Bill Puts the Interests of Industry First - SB 632 Compromises Citizen Rights and Local Control 

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