For Earth Week: Sand Mine Reclamation Regulations Needed

Texas requires a reclamation plan to get a permit for sand mining. However, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas has no requirement to execute the plan when mining is done – except for a small pilot project on the Brazos River. Unscrupulous miners can and do walk away from mines without reclaiming the land when they are finished mining.

Abandoned sand mine in Humble, TX. No fencing. No grading. No vegetation on slopes. Note proximity to buildings on adjoining property and road.

No Attempts at Reclamation for 15 Mines in a Mile Radius

Abandoned sand mines like the one above on North Houston Avenue and Townsend blight the Humble area.  Across the street sits another abandoned mine and a concrete recycling facility. 

Abandoned concrete crushing facility once part of sand mine in Humble, TX.

A quick check of Google Earth shows that fifteen other abandoned sand pits lay in about a one mile radius near these. TACA, the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association brags about how mines can be reclaimed, but are they?

Theory Vs. Reclamation Practice

We have the appearance of sand mine regulation. In practice, since the TCEQ began monitoring sand mines in 2011, the commission has levied only a few hundred fines statewide averaging about $800 per fine. That’s a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, blights like these keep promising areas from re-developing. In the name of helping some businesses, bad actors in the industry harm others…and entire communities. Yet TACA fights legislative fixes.

Potential Legislative Fixes Falter

Two bills introduced in the legislature this year could help address this problem. Both have stalled in committee.

  • HB 1671 extends protections to the West Fork of the San Jacinto currently enjoyed by the John Graves District on the Brazos. It would require local mines to file a bond that guarantees reclamation before they begin mining. HB1671 was referred to the Natural Resources committee on March 4. Nothing has happened with it since then.
  • HB 2871 would require sand mines and other aggregate production operations to acquire a reclamation permit and to file a performance bond ensuring reclamation. Significantly, they would have to do both of these things before they could acquire a production permit. It also attaches civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance. The House Energy Resources committee heard public testimony on HB2871 on April 8, but the bill was left pending in committee. Again, nothing has happened with it since then.

With 38 days left in the legislative session, hopes for both bills are fading fast.

If this makes you angry, register your opinion.

First in a New Series

In coming days, I’ll illustrate other best practices where Texas falls short (and sometimes flat) compared to other states. The series will culminate with a peek inside the multi-million lobbying efforts of TACA.

I’m all for being business friendly, but when that starts to hurt other businesses and residents, I draw the line. That’s not being business friendly; that’s playing favorites.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/22/19

601 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 38 days left in the legislative session