GOP Wants to Restrict Local Control Over Quarries, Sand Mining

September 7, 2017

Quarry

Communities would be restricted from regulating air and water quality and blasting at sand mines, gravel pits and quarries under a plan approved by the legislature’s GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee.

The move came during committee consideration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2017-19 state budget and provides long-sought breaks from local control over frac sand mining and processing plants.

The proposal would prohibit counties, cities, towns and villages from setting air and water quality standards that are tougher than state rules. The proposal would also forbid local governments from regulating things like truck traffic, blasting and setbacks on those operations when they supply material for public works projects after April 2018.

There are more than 100 frac sand operations licensed or operating in Wisconsin, and about two dozen of them contributed nearly $67,600 to GOP lawmakers between January 2010 and December 2016, according to a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis. Walker, who must give final approval to the budget after the legislature completes its work on it, received about $56,100 from owners and employees of frac sand operations since January 2010, the Democracy Campaign found.

Topping the list of GOP legislative fundraising and candidate campaign committees that received frac sand industry contributions were the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $7,250; GOP Rep. Kathy Bernier, of Lake Hallie, $4,000; and the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, $3,500.

The frac sand industry’s top contributors to current Republican lawmakers since January 2010 were owners and employees of Mathy Construction in Onalaska, which runs about a half-dozen industrial sand mines. The top contributors were Steven and LeeAnn Mathy, of La Crosse, $10,700; Scott Mathy, of Onalaska, $8,850; and William Atterholt, of New Richmond, a Mathy vice president, $8,625.

Overall, the industries that own or benefit from quarries, gravel pits and frac sand mines, which include construction, mining, and oil and gas interests, contributed more than $2.7 million since January 2010 to Republican lawmakers who control the legislature by comfortable majorities. Frac sand is a fine white sand used by the oil and gas industry to dig deep wells for oil and natural gas exploration in other parts of the U.S.

One traditional backer of efforts to curb or prohibit local control is Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group. In this case, WMC opposed the committee’s plan because the group said the restrictions on communities did not go far enough.