By Sally Jo Sorensen, Bluestem Prairie
Responding to a host of environmental concerns, the Minnesota Senate Environment and Energy Committee earlier this week approved a one-year state-wide moratorium on new frac sand mines on an 8-4 vote that followed party lines.
The amendment adding a year-long moratorium, proposed by Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, now goes to the Senate’s State and Local Government Committee. The measure was adopted after legislators heard more criticism of the rapidly growing silica sand mining industry from environmentalists concerned about air and water quality, property values, traffic, tourism and the potential destruction of scenic landscapes in southeastern Minnesota.
The moratorium was opposed by industry representatives and by Republican senators skeptical of the need for any additional oversight of the industrial sand industry.
Senator Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont) defended silica sand mining as “ag,” or agriculture, suggesting that rural Minnesotans should learn simply to accept dust, noise and smells. Her comments were met with guffaws from environmentalists until committee chair Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) gavelled the room silent.
Beth Proctor, a professor at Minnesota State University who is a resident of Lime Township on the edge of Mankato in Blue Earth County, led off testimony. Proctor lives close to the dry processing plant proposed for her neighborhood and recited a litany of questions she had asked the DNR about drinking water, aquifers and wet mining. She noted that the answers were uncertain, and that local governments were often unable to answer complex technical questions.
She also criticized the mining corporations for bullying local citizens, using intimidation to win approval: ” ‘We will sue you or we will ask to be annexed by the city,’ ” Proctor said, describing the threats.
One environmental consultant testifying on behalf of the sand industry was Kirsten Pauly, who testified about proposed measures that industry could take to protect a rare bird in the area near the proposed mine, a loggerhead shrike.
The State and Local Government Committee has yet to schedule a hearing on the moratorium.
Sally Jo Sorensen is a native of Southern Minnesota, a writer and researcher who blogs about rural Minnesota at Bluestem Prairie. She received the Good Media Award 2012 from Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) in February 2013.