Tremplealeau County Citizens Challenging DNR Frac Sand Mining Air Pollution Permit Approval
Apr 08, 2014
On Tuesday, April 8, ten citizens who live near a proposed frac sand mine and processing facility in Trempealeau County began a contested case hearing to challenge the Department of Natural Resources' approval of an air pollution permit for FML Sand, LLC's frac sand mining operation.* Citizens are concerned that the DNR approved a pollution permit that would not protect air quality in an area of the state where there is the highest concentration of silica sand mining.
"As a family physician, I would prefer that the particulate matter emissions—including silica dust that causes silicosis—is caught in filters designed adequately for that purpose, rather than in the lungs of our community's children," said Bert Hodous, a Trempealeau County resident and petitioner in the case. "Officials in Trempealeau County have permitted 28 mines, 14 of them within a fairly small area. And now that the DNR granted permits for these mines to release a certain level of particulate matter into the air, we have no confidence that these levels are safe. They could exceed safe amounts when the cumulative effect of so many mines is considered. Unfortunately, we have to go to court for action on these too-lax permits without the necessary air quality monitoring around silica sand mines."
In early 2013, the DNR released a draft of the air pollution control permit application. Midwest Environmental Advocates worked with an air engineer to analyze the details of the company's plans and submitted comments on its weaknesses. The engineer found inaccuracies or errors in the drafted permit that, if approved, could allow the company to emit particulates and nitrogen dioxide in amounts that violate federal and state air pollution standards.
The company submitted plans to the DNR that showed that the processing facility wouldn't have the technology to effectively limit emissions, and the DNR didn't include adequate requirements for compliance testing and ambient air monitoring. The plan also didn't have enough information to ensure that fugitive dust would be controlled. Additionally, the DNR didn't require an environmental assessment to consider the overall impact of existing and proposed mining activity in the area.
"Trempealeau County already has existing frac sand mining operations that are adding particulate pollution to the community's air," said Sarah Williams, attorney for Midwest Environmental Advocates. "The DNR isn't taking the cumulative effect of these facilities into account when issuing new air pollution permits. The DNR also is not taking appropriate measures to limit and monitor fugitive dust emissions. The effect of these failures is a permit that may allow emissions that violate public health standards. If the DNR doesn't require future mining operations to provide adequate information about how their operations will monitor and contain dust emissions, the state will not be able to enforce federal laws that protect our health and our air quality."
Before the permit was approved, concerned citizens who live near or adjacent to the mine site wrote letters of opposition to the DNR or expressed concerns about the health of their family members and livestock at a public hearing on the draft permit. In spite of the citizens' concerns, on June 24, 2013, the DNR approved an air pollution control permit that had no meaningful changes to better protect air quality.
The contested case hearing will run from Tuesday, April 8 through Thursday, April 10 at the Division of Hearings and Appeals, 5005 University Ave. Ste. 201 in Madison. On Friday, April 11, there will be an opportunity for the public to submit sworn testimony at the Trempealeau County Courthouse's Tremplo Room, 36245 Main St. in Whitehall, WI. For more information on the permit challenge, petitioners and the DHA hearing, visit the Midwest Environmental Advocates' webpage.
* NOTE: In September 2013, FML Sand, LLC became the successor in interest to FTS International Services, LLC's proppant business. Though ownership of the proposed mining operation's permits have changed, the citizen challenge to the existing air pollution permit will continue.