The state Capitol’s hearing room overflowed Thursday morning as Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, held a public hearing for a bill that would prevent local governments from regulating air and water quality in their own regions.
Under the new legislation, only the Department of Natural Resources would be able to regulate such standards, which Tiffany said has standards high enough to protect all local communities, in addition to having an a more than $1 billion budget to ensure such regulations are followed.
During the hearing, Tiffany said the bill “absolutely” respects local rights, but that local government should not determine environmental codes.
“The state should be the regulator for environmental standards,” Tiffany said. “Wisconsin as a state already has very high environmental standards.”
This bill is concerning to many who live near proposed mine sites, according to a statement from the Sierra Club, because dangerous amounts of asbestos have been found on the surface and in bedrock in areas proposed to be taconite mines in northern Wisconsin.
Sand fracking involves a mixture of a more liquid form of sand to be pumped underground, to break apart shale rock, allowing crude oil or natural gas to come out, according to National Geographic.
Blasting involved with these mines may subject local citizens to the dangers of the material and “takes away people’s ability to protect against a health threat,” Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, said. Her district has more frac sand mines than any other region in the state, she added.
According to a statement from the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, the bill does not give local government the ability to regulate frac sand mining but “only gives them a say when it comes time to clean up the mess and even then, holds them to the lowest possible standard.”
Previously established health codes would also be lifted if the state were to take over the controls under the bill, the statement from the League of Conservation Voters said.
Kewaunee County is considering additional testing of groundwater after it discovered unsafe levels of nitrates and bacteria, such as E. coli, in drinking water, the statement said. Drinking such water can lead to serious illness for infants younger than six months or lead to death if left untreated, the statement said.
A 2013 study from the University of Minnesota showed a positive association between those who work in and around taconite mines and the onset of acute respiratory and other health problems, leading to a higher rate of such health problems compared to mesothelioma, lung cancer and heart disease.
Tiffany added mining in his community has not caused any environmental problems and the bill would ensure responsible use of resources.
Mining is a lucrative industry with family-supporting jobs, Tiffany said, as the industry is worth more than $2 billion.
The frac sands industry typically supports levels of pay for workers far above levels for other blue collar jobs, according to a 2013 study by the Wisconsin Farmers’ Union.
Vinehout, however, said citing job creation does not justify letting politicians from Madison to decide on health and safety issues for every local community.
Despite the economic aspect of mining, Dr. Shahla Werner, regional director of the Sierra Club, said Tiffany has “launched an all-out assault” on the power of local governments.
“Tiffany has outrageously declared war on Wisconsin citizens by taking away the rights of local governments to protect the health and welfare of their residents and natural resources,” Werner said.