The Legislature's leading mining industry insider is rushing another version of his bad sand mining bill to approval as legislators head for adjournment.
The original bill would have drastically limited local governmental ability to regulate the health, safety, environmental and fiscal implications of sand mine excavating, trucking and other operations.
State Sen. Tom Tiffany, (R- Hazelhurst), says his new bill will leave in place the current regulatory framework used by local governments to regulate existing sand mines - - now numbering more than 100 - - but bar the creation of altered rules that local governments might want to implement to keep new mines running safely.
Setting aside the questions of whether local governments really have the tools they need to deal with this rapidly expanding industry, and if a landowner can slap a mine label on raw land and call it a new, less-regulated-sand mine-in-waiting, here are a couple of observations about why extreme caution is needed about Tiffany's new bill and why every comma and previous word deleted needs to be carefully vetted.
* Tiffany is the last person in the Legislature to be taken as a good source of information on mining impacts and environmental law.
He had already agreed with the Governor's office and mining interests to be their Legislative Go-Fer - - records here - - and pushed a first version of the bad iron mining bill that was rewritten with token 'improvements.'
* And Tiffany had to do the same thing with the follow-up bill - - see the time-and-money-wasting pattern? - - that went from closing off thousands of acres of forest land to public access and thus independent monitoring of mining and environmental impacts to achieving much the same result by closing off less-but-substantial acreage along possible mining roads through the same forests.
His first drafts of bills to serve mining interests are 'Let's-see-what-we-can-get-away with.'
Replaced by ''OK - - Here's-your one-sixteenth-loaf, locals.'
Tiffany's priority is serving the mining industry, not threats to local communities and residents' land, water, health, safety, budgets and peace of mind.
Update from the Sierra Club:
Madison: The Sierra Club today announced opposition to SB 632, Senator Tom Tiffany’s latest attack on local control to benefit the frac sand industry and a handful of owners of sand deposits over the authority of local governments to regulate and protect the public health, air, water and safety of their residents. SB 632 directly attacks the 2012 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholding the right of local governments to regulate and even prohibit a frac sand mine proposal.
SB 632 replaces SB 349, pulled from consideration last year over widespread protests. SB 632 retains the rotten core provisions of SB 349. It still ties the hands of local governments by prohibiting the use of village powers for setting rules on frac sand operations. It prohibits local governments from changing or even enforcing rules for operating frac sand mines even if they're found to be "non-conforming" meaning found in violation of the rules. It establishes that local governments are prohibited from doing anything to stop a frac sand operation on lands registered as having a sand deposit – a boon to owners of sand deposits.
Tiffany introduced the bill on February 26 and has scheduled a hasty public hearing with only two days notice for 12 pm, Monday, March 3 in Room 412 East, State Capitol.
“Senator Tiffany’s newest bill proves again that he will sell out local governments and their residents to benefit the mining industry,” said, Dave Blouin, JMC Mining Committee Chair, “SB 632 is just as rotten as the bill it replaced and we urge legislators to reject it and instead work to strengthen controls on frac sand mining. There is no evidence regulation has harmed sand mine development and in fact, there is growing evidence that the lack of regulation is causing harm to local air and water resources.”
As of June 2013, an estimated 115 frac sand mines were operating. At least 20 notices of permit violations have been issued by the DNR and 6 cases of violations have been referred to the state Department of Justice for prosecution. Three cases have resulted in $360,000 in settlements so far.