Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Resources for Understanding SB 632 / AB 816

State lawmakers are once again discussing a proposed bill that would undermine local regulation of frac sand mining. On February 26, Senator Tiffany and Representative Ballweg introduced Senate Bill 632 and Assembly Bill 816, which would restrict local governments from applying new regulations to existing frac sand operations. Legislators have moved quickly, holding a joint committee meeting days later to gather testimony on the bill. Concerned citizens and others had less than a week to study the bill and raise questions, but dozens still appeared in Madison for a contentious committee hearing on Monday, March 3 (see reports on the hearing by Isthmus and Wisconsin Watch). The committee held a vote on Wednesday, March 5, approving the bill and passing it on to the full senate.

Tiffany and Ballweg had also cosponsored SB 349 in October of 2013, which sought to eliminate the ability of local governments to pass ordinances to regulate frac sand mining as part of town police powers upheld by a 2012 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in the case Zwiefelhofer v. Town of Cooks Valley. SB 349 was met with fierce opposition and was not advanced.

The new legislation is more narrowly focused than SB 349. The recent SB 632 seeks to shield existing frac sand operations from new ordinances or license requirements, as long as they had been operating any time within the previous year. It also prohibits local governments from imposing new, more restrictive zoning ordinances on existing operations, and mine expansion would also be exempt from new ordinances. In addition, if landowners register their property as containing "marketable nonmetallic mineral deposits," then future ordinances cannot interfere with eventual mining activities.

The lawmakers framed SB 632 as "preserving property rights and protecting jobs." "I see this country as having two pillars that have really supported the great prosperity we have," Tiffany has said. "One is the rule of law. The other is the right of private property. This is a very simple bill. It protects existing rights that people have." Proponents also argue that local ordinances amount to a patchwork of inconsistent regulations, and that state laws are needed to provide a predictable regulatory environment for industry.

Opponents argue that SB 632 is a gift to industry, merely another attempt to undermine local democratic control over nonmetallic mining and to restrict the ability of local government to protect people from a rapidly expanding industry. While the industry routinely claims that sand mining is "highly regulated," others worry about unknown environmental health risks and various other impacts. In a statement issued after the passage of the bill in committee, Senator Jauch wrote that "sand mining industry leaders claimed the bill was necessary to give mining companies some assurances 'beyond the next local election.' Instead of proving why this bill is necessary, their comments only served to raise serious questions about why this industry is so fearful of democratic elections."

Over the last several days, numerous interpretations of the bill and statements about its implications have been circulating. Here are some resources that are critical of SB 632:

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