MADISON (WKOW) -- Republican legislators want to stop local governments from imposing environmental regulations and road fees on the state's booming sand mining industry.
They are pushing a bill that would streamline regulations statewide, but Democrats argue it will harm small towns.
Wisconsin sand is perfect for use in hydraulic fracking, a process that removes natural gas reserves from deep beneath the surface of the earth. Since that industry booming, so is the growth of sand mines in the state.
In Trempealeau County, 28 new sand mines have been established in the last 36 months.
"As a result, the Trempealeau County Board enacted a one year moratorium on any new mines so they could take some time to study and analyze the impacts on safety as well as water and air quality," said Rep. Chris Danou (D-Trempealeau) at public hearing on the matter Thursday. "Is this an unreasonable action? Absolutely not."
But Republicans, backed by the industry and its interest groups, say too many local ordinances are leading to too much uncertainty.
"The standards that we're seeing applied in some local ordinances appear to be developed based upon political pressures rather than sound scientific or health-based standards," said Eric Bott, Director of Environmental and Energy Policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
WMC officials say mining companies are also being gouged by municipalities seeking unfair fees for road use.
"And adopting their own taxes, road taxes, on a per ton and per mile basis that apply to hauling product for only that industry," said Scott Manley, Vice-Presdient of Government Relations for WMC.
Senate Bill 349 would strip the ability of local governments to establish such ordinances, leaving it all up to the Department of Natural Resources.
But Democrats, local government officials and environmental advocates say the DNR doesn't have enough staff to adequately monitor the industry.
"So isn't it a legitimate question for citizens who live in that area to have a fear that somehow the science is not yet proven and they do not want to be the guinea pigs to prove that in fact it may be harmful?," asked Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar).
SB 349 is expected to pass through the Senate this fall, but it may be a tougher sell in the Assembly. Speaker Robin Vos has already said he will not bring it to the floor until next spring.
MADISON (WKOW) -- Saying they want to provide certainty to the frac sand mining industry, Republican legislators are pushing a bill that would strip power away from local governments seeking to place specific regulations on the mining companies.
Wisconsin is home to dozens of the mines because the sand here is perfect for use in hydraulic fracturing. That's a process used in other states to extract natural gas from deep beneath the ground.
But several local communities say the explosive growth of the mines has caused them to establish regulations using police powers. Some have set their own environmental standards, while others have imposed fees for road damage.
Senate Bill 349 would prohibit such local regulations, turning regulatory control over to the Department of Natural Resources.
A day long hearing on the bill has featured heated some heated exchanges so far.
In testifying in favor of the bill, Scott Manley of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said that most of the local regulations are the result of political pressure from national environmental groups, a view Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) referred to as "lunacy."
When Manley told Sen. Jauch he resented that statement, Jauch responded by saying, "What I really wanted to say isn't printable."
While the Senate seems poised to pass the bill next month, Speaker Robin Vos has already said the Assembly will not take it up until the spring. But Democrats and environmental advocates say that will likely only delay the inevitable. Meanwhile, business leaders say the bill will help the state secure current jobs and attract new ones.