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Bill Would Limit Communities' Ability to Disrupt Non-Metallic Mining Operations

Two Wisconsin legislators have introduced a bill prohibiting local governments from regulating air and water quality, the use of explosives and disposal sites.

The bill emerges, as one community has voted to halt additional sand mining, until leaders better understand the impacts the dust might have on residents' health.

Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany and Rep. Joan Balweg call their plan the Regulatory Certainty Act. It would affect nonmetallic mining operations - those involving materials such as stone and sand. It reads, in part:

(Regarding local regulation of the use of explosives) "Current law requires the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) to promulgate rules to ensure the safety of mines, explosives, quarries, and related activities. The rules must provide uniform limits on the results of blasting, to reasonably ensure that blasting does not cause injury, damage, or unreasonable annoyance to any person or property outside a controlled blasting site. This bill prohibits a city, village, town, or county from regulating the use of explosives in connection with mining, quarrying, and related activities regulated by DSPS, except that the bill authorizes these local governments to regulate blasting schedules by the issuance of a conditional use permit."

The business advocacy group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce praised the bill, saying it will protect the state's booming non-metallic mining industry. According to Director of Environmental Policy Eric Bott:

“The Regulatory Certainty Act addresses a problematic state Supreme Court ruling, which raised the specter that businesses could be shut down at any time by their local unit of government without due process or just compensation. Moreover it streamlines regulations, without changing any environmental standards, for an industry that is rapidly growing and creating thousands of good paying jobs in Wisconsin. “A recent study showed that the energy boom resulting from hydraulic fracturing is saving the average American family $1,200 a year in energy costs. This legislation will help assure that Wisconsin continues to contribute to that boom and to overall American energy independence.”

Midwest Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit law center, also responded but criticized the legislation for weakening community power. According to Executive Director Kimberlee Wright:

"Senator Tiffany and Representative Balweg’s proposal to eliminate the power of local governments to control the use of explosives in mining and the authority to regulate pollution is another example of how legislators are ignoring the voices of citizens who want better protections of their air and water. The proposal would fundamentally change the way we govern in Wisconsin. This fast-tracked bill will provide short notice to voters and not enough time for reasoned debate."