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Editorial: Statewide moratorium is doubtful

The chances of Minnesota lawmakers adopting a statewide silica sand mining moratorium are slim to none. Goodhue County residents championing one must accept that difficult reality.

While freshman Sen. Matt Schmit's bill has received several hearings, neither he nor his constituency has the power the Iron Range does. That's a fact of political life.

Some people will argue that a one-year moratorium on new or expanded silica sand mining, processing or transfer facilities has nothing to do with metal or ore extraction. We, too, applaud Schmit's admirable intention to give state agencies time to study issues related to silica sand mining.

But major mining forces don't appear ready to support any effort -- however temporary -- that might impinge on their operations someday. Don't expect them to open the door to any mining moratorium.

DFL leaders clearly want Schmit to notch a legislative success in his opening session, but we doubt his full bill has a chance. Just witness the fact that no longtime House DFL lawmaker, even one from southeastern Minnesota, is carrying a similar bill.

Still, Senate File No. 786 carries several key components that could become law. These include the interim ordinance extension, the Southeastern Minnesota Silica Sand Board and a technical advisory team.

Schmit proposes allowing local governments to extend or renew until March 1, 2015, interim ordinances that prohibit new or expanded silica sand. This could buy Goodhue County another 18 months of study. The county adopted its moratorium in September 2011 and extended it in September 2012 for the second and final year provided under current law. The local mining committee has less than six months left.

We support Schmit's concept of creating the Southeastern Minnesota Silica Sand Board. The joint powers board would develop a model ordinance with minimum standards, bringing some consistency to protection measures without usurping local control. Local governments then could make their ordinances more restrictive. No doubt some would.

The bill also would establish a state technical advisory team. In addition to assisting the board, the team would serve as a resource to any and all local governments -- including townships and small towns without seats on the Southeastern Minnesota Silica Sand Board -- on silica-related issues. The team would include experts from the Departments of Natural Resources and Health and Transportation as well as the Pollution Control Agency.

Schmit's first major piece of legislation has much to offer. By all means people who want a moratorium should continue to fight for one, but they also need to realize that compromises and amendments await the bill when the Legislature reconvenes next week. A statewide moratorium just may not be part of the mix.