Sen. Matt Schmit on Tuesday afternoon narrowly lost an attempt to revive the frac-sand legislation that last week was stripped from the game and fish bill.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 11-10 against the Red Wing DFLer’s amendment to prohibit mining for silica sand within one mile of southeastern Minnesota’s many spring-fed trout streams. The mining issue has been debated at the Capitol as the region’s massive deposits of silica sand are being sought after in large quantities for use in the hydraulic fracturing technique of oil and natural gas exploration.
Some of Schmit’s proposals to regulate mining have drawn opposition from northern Minnesota senators in his own party who are concerned that the regulations will affect mining activities in their districts. All Republicans on the Finance Committee were joined by northern Minnesota DFL Sens. Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids, LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer and David Tomassoni of Chisholm in voting down the amendment. Finance Chair Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, didn’t vote. But his vote wouldn’t have changed the outcome even if he had voted in favor of the amendment.
Schmit, who is also the author of the game and fish bill, on March 19 had the trout stream set-back requirement added to the bill in the Senate’s Environment and Energy policy committee. The bill also would not allow water to be taken within 25 feet of the water table.
Last week the Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Finance Division, of which Tomassoni is chairman, removed the frac sand provisions.
“It just doesn’t fit in a game and fish bill,” Tomassoni said.
Peder Larson, a contract lobbyist for the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, told the Finance Committee the language of the amendment extended to seepage areas and fens and would prohibit most mining activity.
“We really consider one of these provisions to be a virtual moratorium in this part of the state on mining,” Larson said.
Despite the defeat for Schmit, his game and fish proposal drew supportive testimony from state Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr. Schmit said the support of Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration gives the proposal a future.
“It means a lot,” Schmit said, “that the commissioner of DNR attended two committee hearings in successive weeks and gave very compelling testimony on this topic. To me that demonstrates the governor is very serious about these standards and getting something very firm in place before we leave the legislative session. My sense is that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this language.”
There is frac sand legislation that’s alive in the Senate’s omnibus environment and natural resources budget bill, which is sponsored by Tomassoni. The budget bill requires environmental assessment worksheets on mines that are 20 acres or more. That’s more stringent than the 40-acre requirement in law. The budget bill also calls for the state to create a model ordinance for local governments to apply to frac sand permits and it provides technical assistance to local governments for the permitting process for mines.
Schmit, however, doesn’t think the frac sand provisions in the budget bill go far enough in regulating mining.
“My concern is those are not standards,” Schmit said. “Those are simply ordinance provisions that may be adopted. A lot of our local governments are looking for stronger leadership, specific standards. And that’s what we were trying to do [with the setbacks from trout streams].”
PIM staff writer Mike Mullen contributed to this report