Sand mining is an industry officials say needs constant supervision – but a proposed bill would strip some of that supervision from local government.
State senators held a public hearing Thursday on a bill proposed by Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany that would ban locals from regulating things like blasting, environmental standards and road damage caused by sand mining operations. Regulations through county zoning codes could still be enforced, however.
According to Tiffany, the bill would remove micro-managing of mining companies that could dissuade them from setting up shop in Wisconsin.
Local officials in Trempealeau County – an area with more frac sand mines than any other in the state – noted the economic benefits to mining.
"It creates work, no doubt about it,” said County Supervisor Michael Nelson. “It creates jobs, and they're good paying jobs."
Nelson also noted the negative impact mines can often have on local communities who live near them.
"You're dealing with the citizens around the mine too, it changes their lives,” he said.
Those citizens could potentially lose their voice when it comes to local mining regulation. According to Kevin Lien, director of Trempealeau County’s Land Management office, Tiffany’s proposed bill would create a “one-size-fits-all” approach to mining control, in which state officials would impose a uniform set of rules for all sand mines across Wisconsin.
Lien said it goes beyond opposing the industry itself – it’s about make sure that industry toes the line.
"I'm not against mining at all, but I'm against cutting out the local process,” he said. “The bill discusses not being able to regulate water quality, water quantity, air quality… those are things that should be dealt with at a local level."
With this bill, Lien said state officials are trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
"We've had 30 public hearings, we've issued 28 permits. Our system is working."
The Senate Mining Committee – which held the public hearing Thursday – was not expected to take a vote on the measure immediately.
For Lien and other state officials, the issue came down to responsibility and who will shoulder it if the state should take over supervision of Wisconsin's 131 sand mines.
"I find it hard to take the cookie cutter approach and be able to regulate an industry like this that's growing so fast without having local control,” Lien said.