Editorial: No room for red tape in sand mining

Published 10:22 am Thursday, March 7, 2013

One of the first legislative showdowns between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans in 2011 involved whether state government “red tape” was overly burdensome for attracting and growing business.

In fact, Republican legislative leaders wrote a top-priority bill that would make it easier to do business in Minnesota. Dayton wasted no time trying to trump that bill via executive orders aimed at cutting the state’s red tape.

Well, this legislative session Dayton and legislators have a similar issue that needs answers, not red tape: What should the state’s role be in regulating frac sand mining?

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The answer to this complex question is admittedly unclear, which is why all sides need to work together to find an answer. The challenge to state government is to lead this effort efficiently and craft balanced answers as soon as possible, ideally in less than a year.

Frac sand — or silica — mining is a growing industry thanks to the North Dakota oil boom. Frac sand, which is found in large amounts in southeastern Minnesota’s bluff country, is a key component in a mixture injected deep into those oil fields to break up rock formations and access oil and gas deposits.

The mining, though, raises several concerns. The most critical is how mining and transporting the sand affect the environment, public health and public infrastructure.

A close second is whether local jurisdictions (think cities and counties) that oversee the mining have adequate resources to do that along with deciding a growing number of mining-related permits and requests. Remember, these entities have to make and stand by decisions that could mean anything from adding jobs and tax revenue to scarring landscapes or lowering residential property values.

Such dilemmas are a big reason why a patchwork of mining moratoriums cover the bluff country and now have Dayton and the Legislature involved.

Two bills at the Legislature are starting to gain traction. MPR reported Tuesday the Senate Energy and Environment Committee OK’d on a party-line vote a bill that creates a statewide one-year moratorium on new mining to allow an in-depth environmental review of the industry. It also creates a production tax to help pay for mining-related damage to roads. A House bill does not contain a moratorium or that tax.

Amid all these complexities, there are a few points critical to resolving this mining debate. First, the state must determine adequate rules and regulations. Second, it must provide the resources to (and stand behind) local jurisdictions charged with applying and enforcing those guidelines. Third, it must do all this quickly. Letting red tape delay answers amounts to a disservice to all sides.

— St. Cloud Times, Feb. 28

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