Yesterday was the last day for lawmakers to file bills for the 87th Texas legislative session. Eight bills have been introduced to curb abuses of aggregate production operations, which include sand mines. Five address reclamation of mines in various ways.
Huberty’s HB4478: Reclamation and Performance Bonds
Dan Huberty from the Lake Houston Area introduced HB4478 which addresses abandonment of sand mines. Many miners simply walk away from mines leaving abandoned, rusting equipment in place and dangerous conditions. Huberty’s bill would require mines to file a reclamation plan before they start mining and also post a bond ensuring they actually execute the plan. Currently, mines are required to file a plan, but there is no requirement in Texas to execute it. Miners can simply walk away from mines after they extract the last ounce of sand. That can leave scars on the landscape, degrade water quality, and threaten public safety.
Huberty’s HB767: Best Practices
Huberty also introduced HB767, a bill that would require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to establish and publish best management practices for sand mining. However, it does not require sand mines to follow the practices. While that’s disappointing, it could bring heat to operations that don’t follow the guidelines.
Biederman’s HB4341: Changes Responsibility for Oversight
Representative Kyle Biederman from Fredericksburg introduced HB4341, a bill that would transfer regulation of aggregate production operations from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC). The bill gives the Railroad Commission the right to conduct unannounced inspections to ensure compliance with water and air quality regulations. Biederman’s bill also mandates reclamation of mines, but includes more specifics than Huberty’s. Finally, it provides criminal penalties for people who knowingly and willfully violate conditions of their permits. The big news: transfer of oversight responsibility from the TCEQ to TRRC. If it passes, it will be a resounding vote of “no confidence” in the job that the TCEQ has been doing in regulating sand mines.
Zwiener’s HB2422: Limiting Location of Mines
Representative Erin Zwiener from Kyle introduced HB2422. Her bill applies to counties with a population of 500,000 or more. It would allow county commissioners to prohibit the construction or expansion of an aggregate production operation at a location less than one mile from a residence, school, place of worship, hospital, or land platted for residential development. The bill would also allow commissioners to establish conditions for the construction or expansion of mines elsewhere in the county.
Murr’s HB291: Reclamation and Performance Bonds
Representative Andrew Murr from Kerrville introduced HB291. It also focuses on reclamation of mines. It would require the grading of banks, revegetation, and removal of equipment upon completion of mining. The bill would also require operators to reclaim mines in stages as extraction activities on different parts cease. It would give miners a deadline for reclamation, too: six months. Finally, it would require a performance bond equal to $2,500 for each acre affected by extraction activities. Upon completion of reclamation activities, the TCEQ would release the performance bond. Cities and counties would have the right to waive the reclamation requirement if reclamation conflicts with proposed future uses of the land.
Guillen’s HB1544: APO Taxation
Representative Ryan Guillen from Rio Grande City introduced HB1544. It addresses the tax classification of land used for sand mining. The language is confusing and an analysis of the bill has not yet been submitted. However, it appears to state that sand mine, once it meets requirements for reclamation, may revert to a property tax rate associated with open space, such as agriculture. The bill lays out some unique requirements for reclamation not discussed in the other bills here. While this seems to give sand miners a positive incentive to restore land, I’m not sure how much. In Montgomery County, the tax appraiser routinely grants ag exemptions to land used for sand mining.
Wilson/Schwertner’s HB1912/SB1209: Permit Requirements
HB1912 filed by Representative Terry Wilson of Georgetown establishes additional permit requirements for aggregate production operations. They affect air quality, light pollution, noise, blasting, dust, and other operational issues identified by the House Interim Committee on APOs back in January.
State Senator Charles Schwertner from Bryan introduced SB1209. It is an identical companion bill to HB1912. Companion bills increase the chance of passage by broadening the base of support in both houses.
During the 86th Legislature in 2019, TACA beat back all reasonable attempts to regulate sand mining. Let’s hope for the sake of everyone’s health and property values that this session has more success. I will keep you posted.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/13/2021
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