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What if local control of frac sand mining comes under attack again in Wisconsin?

Feb 03, 2015

We asked David Wright-Racette to write a guest blog about why the Wisconsin Farmers Union supports local towns passing resolutions in favor of keeping certain decisions about land use and frac sand mining at the local level. Learn more about the Wisconsin Farmers Union on their website and find WFU on Facebook and Twitter.

Despite two failed efforts in the previous legislative session to take away the rights of local governments to regulate industrial frac sand mines, there are rumblings that legislators will once again try to introduce legislation to preempt local control. Despite the fact that members of both parties voiced their opposition to the bills last year, then commonly referred to as SB 349 and SB 632, Wisconsin Farmers Union members remain concerned that a rider will be slipped into the budget that hands regulation over to the state. Despite all of this, some in the state legislature seem intent on attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

The argument goes that since towns enact individual ordinances with different regulations, mining companies must contend with a “patchwork of regulation” which has a chilling effect on business and deters them from coming to Wisconsin. However, the evidence doesn’t bear this out. In 2010, Wisconsin only had about 10 active sand mines and processing facilities. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s website currently lists 63 active frac sand mines and 45 active processing facilities as of May 2014, and the DNR has permitted more mines since then. Hardly a chilling effect.

The other argument put forth is that a few, local “bad actors” have taken regulation too far and are exploiting the sand mining companies. Never mind that local control allows a company to go to the next mineral-rich town over and set up shop if they feel a town’s regulations are too strict. The logic just doesn’t play out. Local control allows towns to craft ordinances with the input from citizens and sand companies that take into account the unique local geology, topography, and infrastructure as well as economic, environmental, and public health concerns. A statewide framework lacks the flexibility and input from those directly affected by the industry, and legislation based off a few perceived “bad actors” is not sound public policy.

Some suspect that legislators may sneak a rider to preempt local control into the state budget rather than debate it as a separate piece of legislation. Any attempt to do so is an affront to the democratic process. A statewide regulatory framework for frac sand mining is not a fiscal item and has no business in the budget. If legislators feel that statewide regulations are necessary, benefit the people of Wisconsin, and have public support, they should have no problem introducing a bill as stand-alone legislation so that it can be scrutinized and thoroughly debated. Frac sand mining affects thousands of people across western Wisconsin and those citizens deserve the chance to have their voices heard.

For those interested in expressing support for local control, towns may consider a draft of a non-binding resolution to pass and send to state legislators stating their desire to maintain their power to regulate frac sand mining (MS Word) as they did in the Town of Howard or a similar resolution to the one passed in Trempealeau County. Please ask your town or county board to consider passing this resolution.

David Wright-Racette is the Policy Organizer for Wisconsin Farmers Union with a focus on frac sand mining and groundwater issues.