Frac Sand Mining Companies Could Benefit From "Polluters Over People Bill"

Wisconsin's environment and the health of its population might be on the chopping block as state Republicans push for mining deregulation in the name of "jobs."

A few bills are floating around in the Wisconsin legislature that could jeopardize the state's natural resources in order to make the state more attractive to mining companies. An official mining bill is currently being drafted, led by assembly Republicans, to expedite mining permits in the state. Another bill introduced last week in both the Senate and Assembly has been dubbed the "Polluters Over People Bill," and aims to overhaul the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) permitting process.

Opponents to those bills argue they could lay the groundwork for a massive iron mine, violate Wisconsin's "public trust doctrine" for publicly-owned waters, and otherwise benefit polluters by selling off the state's natural resources.

Methane Gas Industry Could Benefit From New Legislation

One of the industries that stands to benefit from this bill is the "natural" gas industry, which has staked its claim in the state in the form of sand mining. The sand mined and processed in Wisconsin is sent by rail to other areas of the country to be used in the process of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" -- a controversial methane gas extraction practice that leaks toxins into area aquifers.

Wisconsin has seen a boom in permits, and approval of these permits, for frac sand mining and open-air processing plants in the past few years to coincide with the increase in the use of fracking across the country. The industry has turned to Wisconsin because the state has easily-accessible, large deposits of the sought-after silica sand ideal for fracking. These new mines and processing plants have raised concerns about the health of community members and the impacts on the local environment.

The methane gas industry has already been able to move into the state with ease because of weak local zoning laws. But the newly proposed bill could make it even easier for sand mining to expand in the state.

Bill Loosens Standards For Air Permits

While the bill primarily alters the DNR's permitting process for activities on state waters, it also changes, among other things, the process for approving air permits and high capacity wells -– two permits a company must have before it can commence sand mining and processing.

A chief concern of communities near sand mining operations is the fine particles of crystalline silica released into the air during the process. The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated this particulate to be carcinogenic to humans, and the U.S. National Toxicology Program has deemed respirable crystalline silica as a known human carcinogen.

Currently, the state does not have a standard for a safe level of crystalline silica for the air surrounding the mines or processing sites. Concerned community members have asked for stricter air permitting to more adequately address the health concerns associated with crystalline sillica. Instead, this bill takes air quality standards for mining in the opposite direction. The bill would take away the requirement that the DNR conduct "air dispersal modeling" on these categories of sand mines and processing plants.

Air dispersion modeling involves comparing existing data on mining with the specifics of the proposed mine or plant to determine the effects of emissions on the surrounding population. The modeling for sand mining looks at the particulates of sand in the air, but also emissions of sulfur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and other hazardous elements. These byproducts can be released during processes such as hardening the sand by coating it with resin.

While not taking crystalline syllica's role as a carcinogen into account, the modeling does monitor ambient air quality for the portion of particulate matter than can be inhaled into the lungs and the emissons of these other toxins.

DNR special projects manager for sand mining permits, Thomas Woletz, told the Center for Media and Democracy that without this modeling, it is difficult to check the plant for air quality. Monitoring the particulates after the plant is built is an ineffective method.

High Capacity Well Approval Process Sped Up

The proposed legislation could also impact the sand mining industry by altering the process for receiving a high capacity well permit. High capacity wells are used during the process of washing the sand. During the permitting process, the DNR investigates how a high capacity well -- which has pump capacity of 70 or more gallons per minute -- could diminish the local watershed. The proposed legislation would give these permits automatic approval if the DNR did not finish the application by a general deadline.

Al Shea, DNR Director of the Office of Business Support and Sustainability, told the Center that the DNR does not have a reputation for frivolously granting permits, and he anticipates that if this legislation passed, the tight deadline would result in more denials than approvals.

Others worry that if this bill passed, the DNR is not properly staffed to properly complete the evaluation process with a rushed deadline, and permits could sneak through that would otherwise not be approved.

"Changes Based on Politics, Not Science"

"This legislation is clearly a grab bag of changes intended to please special interest groups," Wisconsin Democratic state Rep. Chris Danou told the Center for Media and Democracy. Danou represents a portion of West Central Wisconsin where frac sand mining has taken hold.

Mike Wiggins Jr., Bad River tribal council chairman, concerned primarily with how an iron mine in Northern Wisconsin would impact his tribe, said in a public hearing Wednesday that the proposed legislation changes are based on politics, not science.

Anne Sayers, Program Director of Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, said "clearly, Governor Walker crafted this legislation to reward his well-funded supporters. Now he's asking members of his own party to risk everything by towing his line once more and voting for a bill that has proven wildly unpopular with Wisconsin voters."

Frac Sand Mining Taking Wisconsin By (Dust) Storm

Sand has long been mined in the state for production of things like roads, glass and concrete. But with the increase in demand for silica sand for use in fracking, the intensity and concentration of the new facilities has sent the state into new territory. The speed in which new companies have grabbed land for mining and processing has set communities off-guard. With proposed legislation, it looks as though companies could be able to move even faster.


In our area its democratics and republicans fighting for restrictions against democrats and republicans that are selling their properties. Mostly former farmers or larg land owners that secretly sell out. The mine company's send in front men to smooth and smooz small town trusting people. Fight for your rights and solict and educated your neighbors.

Hello.. I am one of those unfortunates that the board of supervisors for Pierce County, WI decided to put a sand and gravel quarry in front of. I built my home one year before the farmer west of my house (across the road) decided to sell his property to a corporate gravel company (County Materials). Niether our town board nor any of us in the county approved of putting a gravel pit in this area...yet the county decided to do it anyway. All complaints to the county about the air pollution, increased traffic, incessant noise were talked down by County Materials. They told the county that they would treat the landowners that live across from the pit with total consideration, that traffic was only going to be a small number of their smaller trucks and that they would build berms and plant trees to help with noice and dust pollution. Once they received the permit from the county, they totally ignored all promises made. The traffice is triple to what we were promised, working times were ignored and no attempt is made to keep the dust in check. There are five homes directly across from this pit...we are not a 1/2 mile away nor 1/4 mile away..the pit is within a few 100 ft of our homes. The pit originally was allowed (by Pierce County) to run from Mon thru Fri from 6am to 9pm. and from 8am to 5pm on Sat. I had to go to the board and tell them that not even "city" folks have to put up with companies running these long hours. The county then finally agreed to cut the hours of the company to 6am to 6pm Mon-Fri and from 8am to Noon on Saturday. It is still HORRIBLE!! We are woke up every morning by the constant noise of augers and trucks..the constant noise continues right up until 6pm. Then...the blasting! One of the first blastings was so horrible that it shoke everything off the walls in my poleshed. I called and "screamed" at the county, who told me to call the gravel company which I did. They in turn had me talk to the "dynamiters", who pretty much called me a baby and that their blasting does not effect anything. I asked the "dynamiter" rep if he would like to come into my poleshed to see the damage and he refused. Every time there is blasting, my home shakes so horribly that the glassware in my cubbards rattle, all furniture with knick knacks on shake and the pictures on my walls are askew. The dust pollution is the worse. It is totally effecting my health. Even with every window in my home closed and locked, the fine silica penetrates my home, causing my sinus's to stuff up and my eyes to become cloudy. I can't breath because of it. I taste it in my mouth. I have already had a TV destroyed within 7 years of it's purchase because of the filth. Last year, I went to the board of supervisors of Pierce County about my health of the board members stated that if the quarry couldn't run during windy days, they might as well shut down...he was being "sarcastic" to our health problems. Pierce County ignores the fact that trees do not stop the filth, nor does the berms. They felt that it was County Material augers that were causing the wind storms and told them to drop their augers to a lower level in order to contain the dust storms...which, of course, County Material day they might drop the augers, the next time they keep them at full height. The problem is that the augers are not the only issue. County Materials has not been considerate to any of us that live within a few hundred feet of their quarry. They have large stacks of product stacked right in front of our homes...they could care less about us and our health! Whenever there is a wind from the west or south, especially over the last few months, our homes are blasted continually all day long by the clouds of material. I have had to leave my home and go elsewhere because I literally cannot breath! If the winds are milder, I am able to stay in my "locked up" home, but I can not go outside, because my breathing is adversely affected. The next morning after these days of wind, I cannot open my eyes because they are so crusted up. The sad thing is that both the dairy farmer next to me and I have animals that suffer thru it! I bet County Materials nor Pierce County will pay for vet fees when our animals start to have eye and respirtory problems Pierce County should have never allowed a quarry to be put within such close proximity to residences. I cannot believe that there are not laws that state open quarries such as this one should not be built any closer than a mile to residences... I am to go before Pierce County on 11/16. I have complained to Land Management and they in turn told me to take pictures...which I have that show the clouds of dust coming thru the trees. I also have pictures of 1/2 hours worth of County Material trucks that leave the quarry without being covered. One of the things Pierce County stated was that all trucks coming from the quarry were to be covered. We have complained to the county for four years about this company not covering their trucks..Pierce County slaps their hands and the next day County Materials is back to running "uncovered" trucks. Wish me luck on 11/16..though, I doubt I can get Pierce County to close this pit. I DEFINITELY FEEL THAT AS A STATE, WE NEED TO BAND TOGETHER TO GET TIGHTER REGULATIONS ON THE BIG CORPORATE QUARRIES AND BAN OUR GOVERNMENT FROM ALLOWING SO MANY QUARRIES TO BE OPEN! There are so many of us in Pierce County that are suffering because our government is allowing so many quarries to open up in our county. As of this time, I have a pit four miles from my home and two that are within two miles of my home as well as the one across the street from me. The pit across from me has a 75 year permit to pull sand and gravel...if pits can be run for that length of time why was a pit needed directly across from my home...why does our county and state continue to let more and more companies expand or add new pits???? If anyone can help me with my cause to get this pit closed, please feel free to contact me at