- Minnesota Cities & The League
- Governing & Managing
- Risk Management
- Legislative Action Center
- Training & Conferences
The Legislature’s approach could take a number of different directions.
(Published Feb 25, 2013)
Legislative discussions of what the state should do related to increased mining of silica sand in southeastern Minnesota started on Feb. 19 at a joint hearing of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the House Energy Policy Committee. That hearing was purely to get background informational testimony from state agencies and general testimony from members of the public.
The domestic oil and gas extraction industry has developed a very high demand for high-grade silica sand for a process known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” While removal of this sort of sand has been going on for a very long time in the state, the pressure to quickly and massively expand that industry has been the cause of significant debate and controversy, particularly in the southeastern quarter of the state.
The first piece of legislation related to silica mining was introduced on Feb. 25. SF 786 (Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing) looks at creating long-term mechanisms for regional financial issues in southern Minnesota. It creates an organization similar to the Iron Range Rehabilitation and Recovery Board, but focused on silica mining instead of iron mining. It also requires the completion of a statewide Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS), allows the extension of local moratoria beyond the normal statutory limits, and allows the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to veto government decisions on the need for the completion of environmental impact statements for any project. That bill is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Environment and Energy Policy Committee on Feb. 26 at 12 p.m. in Room 15 of the state Capitol.
Further legislation is likely to be introduced that looks at other solutions related to what requirements should be placed on silica sand mining to protect health, safety, the environment and public infrastructure; what level of government should have authority for permitting decisions; and what types of funding are needed to manage the issue.
It seems to be non-controversial that having state agencies better coordinate the information they have and provide better technical assistance to local governments is desirable. The question of whether the decision-makers have adequate information and what additional information may be needed generates a much wider scope of opinions.
Possible public health impacts related to silica dust exposure, water quality, and quantity issues, and the dangers and impacts of large increases in heavy vehicle traffic seem to be the biggest areas of concern. Some are suggesting that the state should enact a one-year moratorium on permitting new silica sand mining operations while a study is done to fully assess the social, economic, environmental, and public health impacts of these operations through a Generic Environmental Impact Statement.
Currently, most of the decisions about when, where, and how silica sand can be extracted are done by local governments, with the state getting involved only in water appropriation permits and water discharge permits. Possible future approaches range from leaving decisions at the local level to adding state technical support, environmental requirements, oversight, or having the state become the permitting authority with uniform requirements statewide pre-emptive of local authority.
Another angle this issue is likely to be addressed from focuses on the financial implications and liabilities of the operations, including better assessing and covering road and bridge impacts, financial assurance requirements of coverage of mine closure and reclamation, and financial costs and environmental impacts related to various sand-related water uses and dewatering efforts in mines.
A number of possible funding options could be looked at, including current aggregate taxes and host community impact fees; changes to the amount or distribution of those taxes for silica sand; financial assurance bond requirements for future liability concerns; or other local authority to collect impact fees or other special taxes to mitigate local impacts and concerns.
The likely result of all of this legislative discussion is a mix of several of these approaches. Due to legislative timelines for the session, much of that package will be developed prior to March 15. Keep an eye on the Cities Bulletin for updates.
* By posting you are agreeing to the LMC Comment Policy.
Contact Craig Johnson
(651) 281-1259 or (800) 925-1122
1. Type your comment in the “Leave a message…” box.
2. Identify yourself (required) in one of these ways:
—Click on a social media icon to sign in through your account, OR
—Register with Disqus by entering your full name in the first field and email address in the second field.
3. Click Next.
4. Click “Post as (your name).”