Regarding the Community Rights Alliance proposed ordinance establishing a community bill of rights to protect our environment, Supervisor Dean Thompson was quoted as saying “it serves to have the federal and state constitutions nullified when inconvenient.”
First of all, a court challenge to the law, should an ordinance opposing frac-sand mining come to that, can hardly be described as an effort to nullify a constitution. Would Mr. Thompson have considered the corporate challenge which led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which granted corporations all the same rights as individuals, an effort to nullify the federal constitution? Or would he judge as such an effort instead the national outcry over that decision, and a nation-wide effort underway to amend the constitution? It just so happens, Mr. Thompson, that neither is. This is how a democracy works.
I sincerely hope that the supervisors by now, in their fact-finding mission during the frac-sand moratorium, have come to fully understand just how ineffective our regulatory system has been in controlling this, as so many other environmental degradations going on in America today.
In 2010, Wisconsin had only 10 mining and processing facilities. Today it has 132, with 100 more in the planning stages. Since 2012, Wisconsin has found two dozen of these operations in violation of air and water pollution rules, yet anyone living with the 24-hour-a-day traffic, light, air and noise pollution rampant in their neighborhoods has testified that little has changed. Indeed, given the nature of frac-sand mining and processing, little can change.
According to a lengthy article March 17 in the Christian Science Monitor Weekly on this topic, frac-sand production in the U.S. now exceeds 30 million metric tons, most of it coming from the upper Midwest. “The national Institute of Occupational Safety and Health issued a ‘Hazard Alert’ after a study of 11 fracking sites in five states found levels of crystalline silica that consistently exceeded occupational health standards, sometimes by as much as 10 times. In September, OSHA proposed cutting in half the permissible levels of exposure to crystalline silica at work sites.”
So does this mean regulation works? Even if this “proposal” is actually adopted, and remains unchallenged under interstate commerce laws, would we next be able to get any regulatory agency to put a limit on how much of our precious ground water can be harvested for this hugely water-hungry industry, and would any regulations other than a total ban protect the beautiful landscape which defines our regional quality of life and generates most of our tourist dollars?
Dean Thompson and the rest of the supervisors might be interested to learn, if their fact-finding has not taken them there yet, that in mid-December the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found unconstitutional a law that allowed state government to override local communities’ zoning decisions to limit hydraulic fracturing. In 2013, two New York state courts ruled in favor of towns that have limited industrial gas development through local zoning.
The Ohio Supreme Court is considering a similar case. These cases obviously relied on constitutions, certainly not nullifying them. The environmental organization Earthjustice has helped support all these cases. They likely would help us, should we find ourselves in a similar situation.
We have the honor of having two families in Decorah who have won important rights before the Iowa Supreme Court, one the right to home school our children if we choose, and the other the right for gay couples to marry if they choose to do so.
Would our supervisors consider exhibiting as much courage as our private citizens have, should it come to that? I ask of our elected officials, what would you consider spending tax dollars on that is more important, whatever it might cost, than protecting our air, our water, our health, our landscape, our quality of life?
When you make a final decision on this matter at the end of the moratorium, please have an answer to this question ready for those you represent.