Frac sand expansion would be halted in Minnesota until March 1, 2014, under a proposed statewide moratorium added to a bill Tuesday that would intensify and unify state regulation of the growing industry.
The amended frac sand bill was passed by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee by an 8-4 vote.
Under the bill, which was sent to the State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee, the moratorium would temporarily halt any permitting of new frac sand facilities, coinciding a comprehensive, statewide environmental impact study of the industry.
Click here for the Star Tribune Hot Dish item on the hearing.
As a principal strategist, communicator and researcher at Save the Bluffs, a non-profit group that opposes the expansion of industrial frac sand mining and processing, she's jumped to the front lines of a battle that is playing out at the Legislature and in county courthouses, township halls and city halls throughout southeastern Minnesota.
Minnesota Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit conservation group that works to protect coldwater fisheries, is among the voices asking for state interference to mitigate the expansion of industrial frac sand mining in southeastern Minnesota.
Besides holding vast reserves of the world's best frac sand, southeastern Minnesota also is home to an extensive network of ecologically fragile trout streams.
John Lenczewski, who heads the state chapter of Trout Unlimited, told a joint Senate and House hearing Tuesday that Minnesota's streams are spring-fed by the same drinking water that frac sand processing facilities want to pump out of the ground in huge volumes. Mining companies use the water to separate valuable silica sand from waste material. There are fears that the reserves will be depleted to the extent that stream flows are reduced, endangering fish habitat.
"The industry does not need to use our future drinking water to wash sand,'' Lenczewski said.
He also called on the Legislature to prohibit sand mines from digging within 25 feet of the water table. Some new frac sand mines in Wisconsin have been permitted to dig nearly all the way to ground water -- giving pollutants a direct path to aquifers.
In addition, Minnesota's trout anglers want the state to keep frac sand facilities far away from surface waters by writing new setback guidelines, Lenczewski said.
"The state does not have adequate regulation for our groundwater,'' Lenczewski said.
Tuesday's hearing was a listening session and legislation is still forming. For a more complete account of the testimony -- including assurances from industry that Minnesota already regulates sand mining with a far-reaching hand -- click here for the story.
Red Wing City Council members asked Dennis Egan to step down as mayor or quit his new job as executive director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council. When he insisted that he can occupy both positions at once, the council voted to investigate the depths of his relationship with the lobbying group and any other groups he might be serving as a consultant and lobbyist.
At the same public hearing Monday at Red Wing City Hall, citizen Dale Hanson vowed to lead a recall petition that he hopes will lead to a citywide vote that would oust the mayor. Hanson welcomed the city's involvement to make sure the petition is legally sound.
Egan declined to say whether he would fight the recall effort, but he noted that any petition must first pass legal muster with the Minnesota Attorney General's office.
City Council President Lisa Bayley termed Egan's dual employment a "pretty massive inherent conflict'' that has taken a negative toll on the city. Click here for a full story about the rebukes hurled at the mayor during the public hearing.
Photo of Mayor Dennis Egan: City of Red Wing
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Health are not alone in calling for a full environmental impact study in Winona County for a cluster of proposed frac sand mines and processing facilities near St. Charles, Minn. Click here to read the full account of how strongly the two state agencies want an in-depth study to precede any decision on whether to permit facilities proposed by Minnesota Sands LLC.
The county also has heard from Unimin Corp., a North American non-metalic minerals company with major frac sand mines near Le Sueur. Like the MPCA and Health Department, Unimin says two frac sand mines proposed by Minnesota Sands LLC for rural Winona County should be viewed and studied as part of a larger web of facilities, even if they aren't built yet.
Unimin said the environmental data supplied by Minnesota Sands for the so-called Dabelstein and Yoder quarries is inadequate, partly because the proposed mines appear related to other projects, including a proposed $70 million processing plant and rail load-out near St. Charles.
The letter says that Unimin takes its responsibilities under Minnesota environmental review regulations very seriously. The company calls for a broad-based review in Winona County of all "related'' frac sand actions, including "land use impacts, wildlife impacts, water use, impacts on water resources, plans for erosion and sedimentation control, plans for handling waste, traffic impacts, air emissions, odors, noise, dust, visual impacts, infrastructure needs and cumulative impacts.''
The Winona County Board will have the final say.