ST. PAUL — Stakeholders in the debate on whether or not the state should play a larger role in regulating Minnesota’s frac sand mining industry gathered at the state Capitol on Tuesday for the Legislature’s first hearing on the issue.
More than 100 people filled seats and lined the walls at a joint hearing of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the House Energy Policy Committee, where lawmakers heard testimony from residents, business owners and state agencies.
Several speakers praised Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, and Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, for authoring or planning to author legislation that would call for statewide environmental reviews of the booming industry. Schmit declined to say whether or not his bill will call for a statewide moratorium or Environmental Impact Statement, though he said it deals with those issues. He plans to introduce the bill later this week. Schmit said the state should oversee and guide the industry as it grows.
“We don’t want to see what happened in western Wisconsin happen in southeast Minnesota,” he said in an interview.
Buses transported residents to the hearing from southeast Minnesota communities like Winona, Wabasha and Red Wing. Vince Ready of Winona County’s Saratoga Township, where multiple frac sand mines have been proposed, visited the Capitol for the first time so he could speak his concerns to state lawmakers.
“If the proposed mines start their enterprise here, our environment and our resources are changed forever,” Ready said.
Testimony at the two-and-a-half-hour hearing focused on how involved the state should be in regulating the frac sand industry, and the potential cumulative impacts numerous mines could have on communities. Tom Rowekamp, who owns a Winona trucking company and is the contractor for a proposed mine near St. Charles, said he intends to work with the public throughout the permitting process.
“We have complied with all the demands Winona County has asked of us, even to the point of paying a road usage fee even though no other industries do,” Rowekamp said. “I am a local person trying to do a local business and still protect the local people,” he added.
Wabasha city council member Lynn Schoen, who was elected last fall in part on her opposition to frac sand, said the industry doesn’t fit with the city’s tourism economy.
“Beautiful little towns like Wabasha contribute to the high quality of life we have come to brag about here in Minnesota,” Schoen said. “The state needs to get involved now to protect our home, my home.”
Representatives from state agencies like the Department of Health, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Transportation also weighed in.
MPCA commissioner John Stine said there is still limited information on how mining and processing facilities could affect air and water quality. Department of Health assistant commissioner Aggie Leitheiser agreed, saying she’d like to hear more about how frac sand businesses could affect groundwater.
“Information on some of those areas is definitely lacking,” Leitheiser said.
More than 30 people spoke during hearing, including former state Sen. John Howe of Red Wing and Fred Troendle, a St. Charles resident and one of the lead organizers of the group opposed to a proposed frac sand operation just outside city limits.
Senate Environment and Energy chair Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, encouraged those who weren’t able to speak to call with or write comments to members of both committees.
“There’s a lot of people from Winona County, from Wabasha, Houston,” Marty said. “It’s a long trip up here and we do like to hear from people.”