The recent boom in hydrofracking for natural gas and oil has resulted in a little-reported side boom—a sand-rush in western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota, where we just happen to have the nation's richest, most accessible supply of the high-quality silica sand required for fracking operations.
Unfortunately, most of that silica sand lies beneath our beautiful wooded hills and fertile farmland, and within agricultural and residential communities, all of which are now being ripped apart by sand mines interests eager to get at the riches below. This open pit mining is, in many respects, similar to the mountaintop removal going on in Appalachian coal country—except that here, it's hilltop and farm field removal. The net effect on our landscape, natural resources and communities is quickly becoming devastating. In the past few months, the sand rush has come to my own rural neighborhood in Dunn County, Wisconsin, which is about an hour east of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Like many residents in Dunn County, I’m concerned about the speed and intensity with which frac-sand mining interests are moving into our area. The proposals and applications for mines and related infrastructure are coming in so fast (our region has seen dozens just in the past few months), most small towns have been totally overwhelmed. Organizations trying to map and report all the activity literally cannot keep up with the incoming data.
Attend the presentations where these land prospectors and mining-company reps make their case, and you’ll hear a lot of vague reassurances. They say that the traffic, noise, water impacts, air pollution and carcinogenic silica-sand dust “won’t be a problem.” They’ll be “good neighbors,” they say, and leave everything better than it was before. The open-pit mines will eventually be “reclaimed,” they say, and in the meantime, the development will spur job growth and other economic boons.
Those of us who have been researching the industry and looking at similar developments in communities where this activity is underway see plenty of reason to doubt those reassurances. We also question whether this glut of mining-related activity could wind up squelching the kind of economic development that would do our area a lot more good over the long haul.
Those who are deeply invested in this community, who made the effort to move to this area, or who gratefully hung onto the land passed on to them by their parents or grandparents, did so primarily for one reason: because this was a beautiful, peaceful, fertile place where they wanted to make a home, raise a family, have a farm or grow a business.
For decades—generations, in many cases—we’ve all been living and working in this community, paying our taxes, riding out the ups and downs of land values associated with agricultural land. We knew the deal. None of us counted on becoming millionaires. We chose to be here because we loved it, and we had a fairly good sense of what our land might be worth if, for some reason, we ever chose to sell.
Over the past few years, agricultural land prices have been rising. It’s widely predicted that the arable and wooded land in this area will only become more valuable. But now, suddenly, a few landowners are being offered what they see as a better deal—the deal of a lifetime.
Some of them want to sell their land to prospectors and mining moguls who are happy to pay unprecedented prices because they know they’ll turn around and profit even more wildly off the spoils. At least while the hydrofracking industry remains hot. Just long enough for them to make their millions or billions, anyway, and then they’ll be gone.
And what about the rest of us? Based on the experiences of other communities where this type of mining-related development has taken place—places like Maiden Rock and Town of Dovre—we know that a few property owners’ potential windfalls will likely come at the expense of virtually everybody else in the community.
The windfalls will come at the expense of our property values, our quality of life, the future we counted on enjoying here with our kids and grandkids. It may come at the expense of our air, water, health, sleep, peace and quiet—things that can’t be fixed or replaced, losses nobody can or will compensate us for.
The proposed mining-related developments, whether open-pit sand mines, processing plants or transload facilities and rail spurs, would radically change a great deal of what we all hold dear.
Imagine being confronted with huge, noisy industrial zones right in the midst of the place most of us love for its peace and quiet. Imagine the possibility of 24/7 noise, traffic, dust, air pollution, light-pollution and a visual blight on the horizon we look out on every day.
Already, as close as Downing, Bloomer, New Auburn and Cooks Valley, WI, we’re losing the very farm fields and wooded hills that define our landscape. The land itself is being ground up and shipped away, only to become toxic, radioactive waste somewhere else. With an endless stream of trucks and trains rattling both their homes and their nerves, many of those who can afford to leave are already making plans to do so.
What will all this do to our residential tax base? What impact will it have on businesses and agricultural enterprises that might have otherwise invested here? What affect will it have on tourism, on hunting and fishing? On whether our children choose to settle in this area or move away?
Today, sand-industry prospectors are proposing to construct a big transload facility and rail spur on top of nearly two hundred acres of prime agricultural land just north of Hwy 12 in the Town of Menomonie, WI. Their hauling route would send hundreds of heavy, noisy trucks (up to a truck every minute or two) straight through residential communities, bombarding them with non–stop noise, diesel fumes and vibrations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
That’s alarming on its own, but remember the rail spur being proposed would also become an integral part of a whole network of industrial sand-mining activity proposed for all around that same area, and throughout our region. It would become a magnet for more and bigger mines, and thus more trucks, and more local liabilities.
That rail spur is the foot in the door with a thousand feet tromping up fast right behind it. If we allow that door to open, our neighborhood and community will never be the same. Our landscape—including the hills and valleys that took 400 million years to form and that are now an integral part of our watershed—will become a patchwork of open sand pit mines.
Over the course of a couple of decades, a few people will get very rich. But the rest of us will suffer losses we never even contemplated as possible.
Meanwhile, our tax burdens will likely increase, because the mines pay very little of the way of property taxes, and most of the bills—for things like accelerated damage to county and state roadways; legal, consulting and government staffing costs; regulatory monitoring and more—will be passed on to local residents in the form of higher state income and property tax bills.
And when the sand is gone, when the mining activity moves out, what will be left of this place? Some big empty rail yards, a pockmarked series of “reclaimed” sites no longer suitable for farming, and a bunch of homes nobody wants to live in any more? A post-mining wasteland and an even more depressed economy? That’s what’s happened in countless other mine-riddled communities.
The only upside most of us can see in this scenario is the potential of some new jobs. But in most cases, there winds up being fewer local jobs created than promised, and they only last as long as the mines do—a few years, perhaps or a few decades at most.
The real question is how desperately do we want jobs that come at such a high and permanent expense to our entire populace? Do we really want to see our relatives and neighbors employed in tasks that actively destroy the things we care about most? Do we want them employed by an industry whose disruptive activities and demonstrated negative impacts will drive away far more beneficial, sustainable economic-development initiatives?
This is the equivalent of killing the goose to get the golden eggs. It’s like selling off our own body’s essential organs to make a quick buck. In short, it is not a good bargain.
There are better ways. Ways to create sustainable jobs that improve our community over the long term, rather than degrading it. Ways to build businesses that respect our natural landscape rather than undermining it. Ways to fuel economic engines that improve our property values, tax base and quality of life rather than eroding them. Ways to encourage industries that provide life-enhancing products and services, and that develop renewable resources rather than shipping our natural resources out of state.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen a promising uptick in businesses that make sense for this area, from Community Supported Agriculture operations, microbreweries, hops farms and artisanal food producers to sustainable lumber businesses and renewable-energy equipment manufacturers.
We need to be focused on investigating and developing those sorts of smart, sustainable, future-focused businesses, rather than reactively pandering to a dead-end industry that requires sacrificing the things that make us want to live here in the first place.
This is an agricultural and ag-residential community. Intensive, industrial mining-related activities are clearly not compatible land uses within the vast majority of our community. And for the most part, our current zoning and comprehensive planning policies reflect that reality. As residents, we need to insist these protections are wielded properly and strengthened appropriately for the modern-day sand rush we are experiencing now.
It’s understandable that landowners approached by these mining prospectors are tempted to sell or lease their land. But that does not necessarily give them the legal or ethical right to do so.
I ask our local officials to remember their primary responsibility in protecting the health and welfare of this whole community. They can do this by upholding our zoning and embracing strong ordinances, by standing up for our farms and our families, and by saying “no” to ill-fated, shortsighted mining developments so that we can all say “yes” to a more promising future.
Video courtesy of: Jim Tittle, Nice Pictures, thepriceofsand.com
An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Dunn County News, April 22, 2012.
Pilar Gerasimo grew up on a family farm near Menomonie, Wisc. and moved back to the area several years ago with her husband, Zack. A health journalist by trade, she recently served two terms as Chairperson for the Town of Lucas in Dunn County. She is a member of the “Save Our Knapp Hills” Alliance, a citizens group researching and responding to frac-sand mining activity in the region. For more information, visit “Save Our Knapp Hills” Alliance at Facebook page or email email@example.com.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- California Winery Cuts Carbon Emissions With Lighter Bottles ... ›
- Wealthy One Percent Are Producing More Carbon Emissions Than ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
- 14 States On Track to Meet Paris Targets - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Names John Kerry as First-Ever Climate Envoy - EcoWatch ›
By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Pebble Mine Threatens One of the Last Great Salmon Rivers ... ›
- The Pebble Mine Is Too Toxic Even for the Trump Administration ... ›
- Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era Restrictions on Pebble Mine ... ›
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.