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Minnesota Governor Won’t Issue Frac Sand Moratorium

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton received more than 6,000 petition signatures asking him to issue a frac sand moratorium in that state. But Dayton said he can’t personally block the frac sand industry from expanding in southeastern Minnesota, rebuffing a group of mining opponents that delivered a moratorium petition as part of an Earth Day rally at the capitol.

The petition, which was circulated by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) since mid-January, calls for a two-year moratorium on frac sand mining in southeastern Minnesota, as well as tougher statewide standards for the industry.

Gov. Dayton, they said, has the authority to enact a regional moratorium on frac sand mining through the use of the Critical Areas Act. According to statute, the intent of the Critical Areas Act is to identify and protect “areas of the state that have cultural, or aesthetic values or natural systems which perform functions of greater than local significance,” and are endangered by development which “could result in irreversible damage to these resources, decrease their value and utility for public purposes, or unreasonably endanger life and property.” The law specifically lists “suspension of development” as part of its scope.

“The southeast Minnesota driftless region clearly fits the description of the type of area that the Critical Areas Act was designed to protect,” said LSP policy organizer Bobby King. “It is threatened by frac sand mining, a relatively new and especially destructive type of development. The law allows for suspension of development or moratoriums in that case and we are calling on the governor to use that authority.”

Dayton’s spokesman, Matt Swenson, issued a statement saying the governor “lacks the authority to unilaterally impose his own moratorium.’’ Swenson said the position was based on the advice of Micah Hines, the governor’s legal counsel.

More than half of Minnesota voters oppose increased frac sand mining in the state, and 64 percent support a two-year moratorium in the karst areas of southeastern Minnesota while potential environmental impacts are more fully assessed and state regulations are developed, according to a recent poll. The statewide telephone survey was conducted Feb. 4-6, by the bipartisan public opinion team of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates and Public Opinion Strategies.