Friday, October 18, 2013

What The Frac?

Republican legislators are drumming up support for a proposal that would strip the authority of local governments to site, regulate and even monitor controversial frac sand mines and the public health, safety, property damage and other concerns that come with them.

This proposal comes on the heels of an explosion in the number of frac sand mines created in parts of northern and central Wisconsin over the past three years, and a corresponding dramatic spike in campaign contributions to legislative and statewide candidates from the industries that process and use the sand.

Powerful special interests that benefit from the plan – the sand mining and natural gas industries – contributed nearly $758,000 to legislative and statewide candidates from 2007 through 2012, according to a recent Democracy Campaign report.

Those contributions grew sharply each year, particular after 2010 when the number of sand mines and processing and transport operations grew from about a half dozen to more than 100 this summer throughout central and northern Wisconsin.

And the money continues to flow in. The two industries that directly benefit from loose mining rules and enforcement of environmental regulations doled out an additional $101,164 in the first six months of 2013 when the latest deregulation proposal was in the works.

In addition to these two industries, the powerful Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business organization, is praising the proposed plan. WMC represents more than a dozen powerful special interests that contribute millions of dollars to legislative and statewide candidates. The group has also secretly raised and spent an estimated $18.4 million in Wisconsin elections since 2006 mostly on negative broadcast advertising that usually supports Republican candidates.

Opponents of sand mines and their processing and transport operations say airborne silicia sand used to drill for natural gas in other states causes respiratory and other health problems, threatens the quality and quantity of groundwater and accelerates road damage at increased costs to local taxpayers. Supporters say the industry provides much needed jobs and an overall boost to local economies.

The latest deregulation plan would prohibit local governments from using their police powers as allowed under a 2012 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to determine where frac sand mines are located. Local governments could use zoning and reclamation ordinances to site the mines, but would prevent counties, cities, villages and towns from closing down existing sand mines or letting them expand on adjacent land.

The Department of Natural Resources would be in charge of imposing air and water quality standards for frac sand mines, but couldn’t impose standards stricter than state law. Local governments would also be prohibited from creating or enforcing their own air and water quality standards and restrictions; requiring air and water quality monitoring; and regulating the amount of water used in mining operations.

The bill also reduces a county’s authority to require mine operators to repair damaged land; prevents local governments from regulating explosives used in mining or quarrying; and dictates the methods counties and municipalities can use to get mining operations to reimburse them for road damages.


Anonymous said...

People no longer matter to these Republican legislators. What ever organization gives the most in campaign donations gets to write their own bill and it is guarantied passage. As they say: "It's as good as money in the bank!"

Anonymous said...

As crappy as this is, the local people in positions of influence or with any level of decision-making powers are still and have been all along, the more dangerous. While the Menomonie sand operation actually predated the large Chippewa Falls facility, the CF operation was the one that really dropped the bomb, and heralded the dropping of many other bombs. A brief history of local influence -
The Chippewa County Board made a big fuss about setting up a Public-Private partnership corp. This group CCEDC was headed up by a guy named Charlie Walker. I don't know if he still does, but there was a time when the county openly touted Walker's participation in and attendance at WMC meetings and I believe they sponsored some stuff (the county) at a convention.
So at some point old Charlie made some deals with the Texas Sandmen. A zoning change was written in micro-print, no reason given for the rezone, and then "published" in the back pages of a paper NO ONE READS. This local rag is so despised, unread, and reviled for inaccuracies, at one point the (then) Chippewa Falls mayor made a declaration of refusal to publish and then tried to self-publish announcements directly to citizens. Anyways. no one had the last clue about that crappy piece of land by the vet clinic. Rezoning flys thru and later when people (played for fools by their neighbors and officials) realized what happened, the officials got REALLY nasty and blamed people for "not showing up" at "properly noticed" decisions. Not unlike the days when Assembly Democrats were not REALLY properly noticed re: important legislation by the Walker boys. some scrap on a bulletin board and such. Like that. Meanwhile. The guy who stood to (and did) make million BUILDING the coming Sand Plant was on the Plan Commission Board that was to approve/deny the Plant. He did not recuse himself but instead pushed for the deal that would line his pocket. Similar behavior from others, notably The mayor at the time, who ran for office in a big rush was an engineer for SEH a firm up to their eyeballs in sand dealings (they obviously would have had prior knowledge, as would folks in Public Works Dept etc) , So Hedrington also was helpful to the Texans, and stonewalled his own constituents in ways mayors are able to do. That mayor then LEFT HIS JOB EARLY. resigned to go to work for the firms that plan and submit proposals to all kinds of towns for new operations. You can find his name in public records now, as a rep for the Sand Companies.
Obviously a fair amount of other people who stood to gain in helpful positions (official or unofficial) had spread the news amongst themselves, and then joined hands to sing the Who Song of Corruption well out of sight of the public until it was pretty much too late. Not pretty much, WAS too late. It's clearly an exploiter's game now, and quite openly so. And no hope for change IMO. Now we have as "defense" a backroom-picked candidate who won't "make promises" That can be spin as a positive - i.e. no bullshit job creation number carrots on sticks etc. but also gives us a candidate who will refuse to say what she will promise NOT to do. Not to sell off Public assets, NOT to stop the attack on Unions, NOT to stop the assault of Women's Rights, NOT to dole out cash to business with no real oversight, NOT to restore the DNR to greater independence from Developers.
Etc. We recall Walker said "everything is on the table" early on, and we learned what that meant later. Now..."no promises". Open secrets. Transparent lack of Transparency. What the heck. Kiss your butt goodbye Mike. The light at the end of the tunnel is an on-coming Sand Train.