Aggregate Mining Bills Unify Union Members, Michigan Chamber
Several union groups and business associations have joined forces on a bill package establishing a statewide code for aggregate mining permits that was introduced on Wednesday. Ahead of the bill package’s introduction, the bills were supported by the Build It Michigan Strong coalition, a group comprised of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, Grand Rapids Chamber, Michigan Manufacturers Association, Home Builders Association of Michigan, Michigan Laborers, MITA, Asphalt Pavement Association, Michigan Aggregates Association and Michigan Concrete Association, along with Operating Engineers 324 and the Michigan Teamsters. On April 20, several coalition members, including Douglas STOCKWELL with Operating Engineers 324, Kevin MOORE with the Teamsters Joint Council 43 and Alex ZUREK with Michigan Laborers, wrote a letter to the Michigan House and Senate. In it, they urged members to support the bill package to help Gov. Gretchen WHITMER’s efforts to “fix the damn roads” and increase access to aggregates, which includes sand and gravel material used during construction. According to Harbor Strategic CEO John SELLEK, operating engineers are joining business groups in support of statewide aggregate mining permitting processes because of a shortage of aggregate materials in Michigan and mine permits held up by local governments (See “House To Dust Off Aggregate Mining Bills,” 5/2/23). Without an increase in aggregate material and an improvement in the statewide supply chain, he said operating engineers are concerned about the continuation of consistent work and the ability to draw a new generation of engineers into the profession, a statement confirmed by William MILLER, political director of Operating Engineers 324. "Without expanded access to aggregates, we risk losing another generation of professional tradespeople because we cannot logistically and financially put them to work,” Miller said. “Given the state of our infrastructure needs, this would be catastrophic to our future.” For business owners, Executive Director of the Michigan Aggregates Association Doug NEEDHAM said the holdup of permitting processes for mines near construction sites forces aggregate suppliers to haul materials further distances, increasing both costs and air pollution. Needham said the current permitting process allows local governments to delay approval by changing their ordinance requirements and increasing the burden of proof on aggregate suppliers, who then must prove there is a direct benefit to the local municipality. Many times, nearby highway repairs and infrastructure improvements don’t count, he said. According to a release sent by the coalition, exhaust emissions could be reduced by as much as 313,000 tons of CO2 annually by reducing the distance trucks must haul aggregates to job sites. But environmental groups across the state spoke out in opposition to the bill package, including the Sierra Club, Michigan Environmental Justice Council and Clean Water Action. Mary BRADY-ENERSON, the Michigan Clean Water Action director, said voters backed candidates who promised to deliver on polluter accountability, and they want to see them follow through. “The state House has not moved on any of the environmental issues that millions of Michiganders voiced their support for at the ballot box last year,” Brady-Enerson said. “Instead, House leaders are introducing and pushing a bill opposed by both the environmental community and their own constituents. This is unacceptable.” She was joined by Jamesa JOHNSON-GREER, executive director of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition and Elayne ELLIOT, chapter director of Sierra Club Michigan, who called the bill’s introduction a cave to lobbyists and “dark money in Lansing.” In addition to their own environmental concerns, opponents of the package cite the removal of local control, including members of the Land Preservation Alliance in Metamora, the location of a continued fight over a mining permit. The reintroduction of the long-debated aggregate mining package comes in the form of a bill trio sponsored by Rep. Angela WITWER (D-Lansing), Rep. Tyrone CARTER (D-Detroit) and Rep. Pat OUTMAN (R-Six Lakes). Sellek said the package will create a statewide permitting process through EGLE, along with codifying rules on noise, dust controls, vibrations, truck routes, berming around sites, limits on stockpiles and hours of operation at mining sites. The package will also ensure exhausted mining sites be reclaimed, he said. Sellek said the package has only been introduced in the House so far, but added that there could be a Senate version at a later point.