Enviro budget bill requires DNR approval for frac sand mining

Companies looking to mine frac sand in Minnesota would need to get approval from the Department of Natural Resources.

The requirement was part of an environment budget bill passed by the Legislature on Saturday night. Some opponents of silica sand mining had hoped the Legislature would ban it or forbid mining near trout streams.

DFL Rep. Jean Wagenius of Minneapolis said the permit process will ensure that the push to mine the sand does not harm the environment.

"In this area, the sources of water are often underground and are hard to track," Wagenius said. "We don't know about all of them. In order to get a permit, you're going to have to figure out whether you're going to disturb somebody's private well, are you going to disturb a municipal or are you going to disturb a trout stream. If you are, the commissioner has the authority to say no."

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Originally the House plan would have imposed higher fees on water use and used the money to increase groundwater monitoring. The final version of the bill would still increase monitoring but would rely on general tax money to pay for it.

DFL Sen. David Tomassoni of Chisholm said the committee dropped the fees because they were worried about their impact on the public.

"It was going to be a big cost to our farmers and our businesses and even to our homeowners," Tomassoni said. "We decided that we were better off not doing the water fees. The program is going to be in and it will get funded at a certain level, so they'll get some monitoring and some hydrologists hired."

Groups have been arguing for increased oversight of the state's groundwater because of water shortages in parts of the state.

Lawmakers have several more budget bills to pass before Monday's constitutional deadline to adjourn.