Neighbors Diverge: An Explanation for the Differences in Silica Sand Mining Activity in Wisconsin and Minnesota

May 2015

This paper provides a brief discussion on the demand for silica sand mining in Wisconsin and Minnesota and explores the reasons for different levels of industry development in the two states. These reasons include geology, rail transportation capacity, and community type, although the most significant difference is the orientation of state leadership and the resulting regulatory environment. This paper also discusses the similarities in local responses to sand mining, including actions by local governments, advocacy organizations, and citizen activists, both in opposition to and in support of further industry development.

This comparative case study illustrates the implications of regulatory decentralization in the United States. Two neighboring states share a natural resource with value to the national economy and relevance for national energy policy. Moreover, extraction of this resource has implications for the economy, environment, and culture of local communities. The divergent approaches to regulating silica sand mining in Wisconsin and Minnesota demonstrate how decentralization can result in different outcomes in state- and local-level responses.