The production and transportation of sand, cement, and concrete is a dusty business that has faced increased scrutiny from the state and advocacy groups in recent years. Some state lawmakers have even seen the need to introduce bills for the upcoming legislative session that would regulate the industry.
So far, six bills have been filed for the 2021 legislative session, which convenes Jan. 12, that directly target concrete plants or aggregate production operations — rock crushers, sand mining operations, etc. — like those near Sandy Creek, Lake LBJ in Kingsland, and Double Horn.
“There are some that are already going through, and then there are some others that still need to dot the I’s and cross the T’s and such,” said Fermin Ortiz, a spokesman for Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining (TRAM). “Once the (Texas House Interim Committee on Aggregate Production Operations report) will be brought forward, that’s when I think another surge of bills might be forthcoming.”
Each even-numbered year, the Texas Legislature assembles study committees to examine issues brought up in the previous session that require research. The House Interim Committee on Aggregate Production Operations is one such committee. It’s chaired by Rep. Terry Wilson of District 20, which includes Burnet County.
The report the committee put forth will be informed, in part, on a series of public presentations and comments made at several town halls hosted by Wilson.
“The reality of it is that we as Texans cannot stop the APO industry,” Ortiz said. “We need them. We need to work with them, they need to work with us. We need to make sure that the good — and there are good ones that do it right and do it safely — the good ones need our support to entice the bad ones to get in line.”
Texas is one of only seven states that does not have comprehensive mining regulations, according to the TRAM website. APOs are a $2.5 billion industry. The Texas APO industry is 70 percent larger than the next state.
New regulations proposed by the upcoming bills include doubling the distance requirement plants have from places such as residential homes from 440 yards to 880 yards; expanding the list of people who could request a hearing on concrete batch permits; and changes relating to the issuance of an air quality permit.
“I believe the regulations we have in place are already really conservatively effective,” said Josh Leftwich, the CEO of the Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association (TACA). “(The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) has done the necessary background and research to develop these regulations, which are all driven by EPA oversight and those types of agencies that they have to report into.
“We’re already a pretty highly regulated industry. We have a lot of regulations that we’re already doing,” he added.
TACA, an industry group representing APO and concrete companies, recommends a number of best practices and encourages APOs to keep open lines of communication with their neighbors, but resists calls for greater regulation.
“It’s not a one-size, best practice for all of the industry,” Leftwich said. “Each site is so different and has different challenges. TACA members really try to go above and beyond their regulatory requirements with best management practices and operations.”
Regardless of regulation, APOs and concrete plants will proliferate as long as there is rapid growth in the state, Ortiz added.
“We’re not going to be able to stop it,” Ortiz said. “As long as people keep coming to Texas and people keep loving our great state, we’re going to need more roads and buildings, more of the products that come from APOs,” Ortiz said.