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Commentary: Keep moratorium, let state debate play out

After a year and a half of monthly meetings it appears the role of the Goodhue County Mining Study Committee, which was formed to review county policy on frac sand mining, is drawing to a close.

As a member of that committee I have mixed emotions about the process. On the good side honest intelligent members of the mining committee and public discussed real concerns and upgraded the current mining ordinance. I have learned we have a very capable planning department.

On the other hand, from the beginning the mining committee was told and the public was warned that we had to have frac sand mining because the country needs oil. Interestingly, in the mining committee meetings we were not allowed to discuss the nation's need for oil or the big energy picture.

The environmental issues related to fracking were never given a nod in mining committee meetings. Even though fracking was never brought up in this way, some members of the committee were accused of trying to specifically regulate frac sand mining because what the sand would be used for.

Good or bad, the decision was made to impose regulations on all mining. Frac sand mining got the benefit of being protected by concern about harming existing mining interests. Existing businesses having nothing to do with frac sand mining will be more heavily regulated because of this approach. The cost of these regulations will be a collateral effect on existing businesses.

The Mining Study Committee report states that banning frac sand mining in Goodhue County was discussed numerous times throughout the process. The reality was that it was brought up but not really discussed. The discussion was delayed until the last hour of the last mining committee meeting.

A sentence appeared in the final Mining Study Committee report comparing the relatively meager economic benefit of the Cannon Valley Trail with millions of dollars of "new infrastructure, jobs and other revenue" that would be provided by frac sand mining. When this addition was called out as inappropriate and belittling of the tourism industry the committee had a discussion and it was suggested the sentence be removed.

But the sentiment that frac sand mining must happen rises again in a new suggested addition, "The tourism industry in Goodhue County has been shown to have significant importance to the economic health of the community. There are also economic benefits from the current mining operations in the county ... it is important to find the right balance and location for proposed uses."

I'll admit after looking at the issue for the past year and a half I don't want to see frac sand mining at all in the bluff lands of southeastern Minnesota. Clearly my viewpoint has no traction with current local politics.

So let's set aside the local environmental issues for a moment. In a time of record droughts, snow in May and severe weather worthy of a disaster movie, most people are starting to accept the idea of climate change.

Domestic oil supply is at an all-time high yet oil prices don't go down. The big push is always for more oil. Isn't it right someone should discuss the big picture?

Recently I decided it was time to replace my old business vehicle with one that gets better mileage. My accountant informed me because my new car was too small it didn't qualify for business tax benefits. He suggested from a tax standpoint, a Chevy Suburban or Cadillac Escalade would serve me better than a Toyota Prius.

Is calling for a ban on frac sand mining in our own backyard really pressing an unfair advantage on the oil industry?

I look at the Mining Study Committee members and the county commissioners. Most of us are over age 50. We formed our opinions before the Internet, when the idea of paying for water in a bottle was a joke. I dare say most of government is that way. We old people are still trying to impose ideas born in the industrial revolution on a world that is being pushed to the edge.

The Goodhue County commissioners are poised to call off the moratorium on frac sand mining. The new ordinance relies on a yet to be formed technical committee and "best practices" that are mostly links to various websites. The issue is still being hashed out at the state level.

The frac sand resource has been there for 500 million years. If the moratorium is extended so work at the state level can be finished, the sand is not going to disappear.

Since commissioners are not willing to ban frac sand mining they should at least be willing to adopt the new ordinance and continue the moratorium until studies and legislation at the state level are complete.