More Local Control, Transparency Over Frac Sand Mines Opposed by Powerful Interests

July 29, 2015

Four bills that would increase local control and transparency in the siting and operation of frac sand mines are opposed by trade groups that represent more than a dozen powerful special interests that have spent millions of dollars to elect majority Republican lawmakers.

The legislative proposals are Senate Bills 98, 99, 100, and 101, and were introduced in late March by two dozen Senate and Assembly Democrats. Republicans control the Assembly by a margin of 63-36 and the Senate by a margin of 19-14. All four bills were referred to a legislative committee and no public hearing has been scheduled.

SB98 would require landowners who are selling their property to disclose whether they know of frac sand mining contracts on neighboring land; SB99 would authorize counties to issue licenses and require bonds for frac sand exploration; SB100 would require frac sand mining to be listed as a conditional use on land that is locally zoned for agricultural use; and SB101 would require local governments to publish and mail notices at least 30 days before a public meeting is held to consider frac sand mining applications.

More than 100 frac sand mining, processing and distribution facilities pepper western and northwestern Wisconsin. Frac sand is a fine white sand used to dig deep wells for oil and natural gas in other parts of the U.S. Critics are concerned about the environmental, public health and economic impacts of frac sand mining and processing facilities, and claim the state does not adequately study, inspect or monitor the operations.

The legislative measures to provide greater transparency and local control over frac sand operations are opposed by the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, which represents road builders, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization. WMC, which is one of the most powerful and high-spending lobbying and outside electioneering groups in Wisconsin politics, represents more than a dozen special interests including business, manufacturing, construction, energy, natural resources, tourism, real estate, and transportation.

The road builders and other special interests represented by WMC contributed $10.5 million individual and political action committee contributions between January 2011 and December 2014 to Republican lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, who decides which bills receive consideration by the Senate, received nearly $660,000 in contributions from WMC-related special interests.

In addition to direct contributions, WMC secretly raised and spent an estimated $3.7 million between January 2011 and December 2014 to support Republican legislative candidates.