ST. PAUL — The U.S. Supreme Court last week said it would not review the petition aimed at undoing a county-level ban on silica sand mining in southeast Minnesota.
In a statement, Minnesota Sands LLC said it was "extremely disappointed" by the move and maintained that Winona County's ban is unconstitutional.
"Banning a regulated use of a natural resource is the wrong way for Winona County to try to address an issue that is far beyond their authority as a county government," the company said.
The Supreme Court's decision not to take up the case, filed in October, amounted to another legal defeat for Minnesota Sands, which holds mining leases for silica sand deposits in the southeastern part of the state. Efforts to undo the ban had previously been appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which in March upheld the lower court rulings declaring it constitutional.
In a statement, the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project, which opposes the mining projects eyed by Minnesota Sands, said the U.S. Supreme Court "made the right decision."
"Now, despite Minnesota Sands’ desperate attack on this democratically enacted decision, hills, bluffs, water, air, and communities in Winona County will remain protected from frac sand companies’ destruction," the group said.
Enacted in 2016, Winona County's ban prohibits the mining and processing of industrial silica sand but does not prohibit mining for sand used in construction projects, which doesn't necessarily need to be processed. Environmental groups and some residents supported it because of silica sand mining's purported effects on human health and the environment.
Fine dust created by the mining process can affect air and water quality.
Processed silica sand, called frac sand, can be used to extract oil and natural gas from the earth through the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. By injecting the sand, or other mineral of choice, into rock along with water and chemicals, cracks are created that allow oil and gas to flow out.
Because there are no fossil fuel reserves in Minnesota to begin with, Minnesota Sands argued, the market for frac sand is based entirely out of state. So by banning the company from even mining and processing the material, it has argued, Winona County effectively violated the Constitution's interstate commerce clause.
The ban also rendered worthless the mining leases Minnesota Sands got a hold of prior to its taking effect, the company had argued, thus violating the takings clause, which allows the government to seize private property only if it provides "just compensation." The company claims to have invested millions of dollars in the acquisition of mining leases and mineral rights.