Some 75 civic and environmental groups have endorsed a resolution started by the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice that calls for a ban on frac sand mining and a halt to a bill that would strip the ability of local governments to regulate the booming industry.
“Since 2011, legislative efforts have undermined Wisconsin’s democratic tradition and conservation heritage by weakening environmental protections, eroding the authority of the state Department of Natural Resources to make science-based rules, preventing DNR enforcement staff from doing their jobs and reducing public input in the iron mine permitting process,” reads the petition.
So far, nearly 450 people have signed the online petition.
The resolution was delivered to Gov. Scott Walker and members of the Republican-controlled state Legislature, along with state and federal regulators earlier this month. Organizations signing on in support include 49 Wisconsin groups and 29 other groups from seven states where Wisconsin sand is used for hydraulic fracturing.
The number of frac sand mines and processing centers has more than doubled in the past two years to more than 140 either operating or in the planning stages, according to data from the Wisconsin Center on Investigative Journalism.
The mining operations are changing the landscape of western Wisconsin, where the hard silica sand is most abundant.
At the same time the state’s frac sand industry is booming, a handful of Republican lawmakers are trying to roll back regulations or prevent local governments from regulating it and other industries.
For that reason, the resolution also calls for lawmakers to block passage of Senate Bill 349, authored by Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, and Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan, that would also prevent municipalities and counties from imposing any regulations on air and water quality for any industry, not just frac sand mining, moving forward.
A big concern for residents near frac sand operations is crystalline silica dust, a known lung carcinogen that is a byproduct of the mining process. The state doesn’t monitor or regulate silica dust amounts in the air and if SB 349 was passed into law, neither could local governments.
“This bill has a much broader reach than the frac sand industry,” said Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, following a public hearing on the bill in October. “It is really an anti-environmental bill that is cloaked in the garb of needing to create more frac sand jobs.”
The bill would nullify an untold number of licensing and regulatory agreements across the state that deal with air and water quality, including a recently passed moratorium on frac sand mining permits in Trempealeau County, a town of Rosendale ordinance that bans the aerial spraying of manure and a three-year ban on the same practice by Adams County.
“Wisconsin has historically used strong regulation to ensure that a clean environment is preserved for future generations because our well-informed citizens have stood up to demand it,” reads the resolution.