What are APOs?
Narrowly defined, Aggregate Production Operations (APOs) are places where aggregates—sand, gravel, and stone—are mined and quarried. However, the term is often applied more broadly to include places where aggregates are used, processed, or stored: concrete batch plants, hot-mix asphalt plants, and bulk mineral handling facilities.
What benefits does the aggregates industry provide to Texas?
The aggregates industry provides necessary materials for the construction of roads and buildings. It also provides jobs.
What are the negative impacts of APO operations?
The Texas aggregates industry today has significant negative impacts on the health, safety, property rights, property values, natural resources, and long-term viability of Texas communities.
More specifically, the industry impacts include:
- Air quality: significant impact, including emissions of carcinogenic PM2.5 particles and significant dust, all of which lands in and around nearby communities.
- Water use: a typical quarry uses about 50 gal of water per ton of aggregate mined and processed, which could be significantly reduced through use of best available technologies.
- Water and waterway contamination: quarries and mines are known to pollute ground- and surface-water and severely degrade the natural stability of streams and rivers, resulting in more damaging floods. Quarries are a form of a man-made feature with open pits in bare bedrock that can act as funnels for pollutants to enter aquifer systems, rivers, and streams with no natural filtration. Those pollutants can include diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate being used as the explosive agent in the mining process on a regular basis, or urban runoff containing fertilizers, pesticides, oil products, and septic effluent that can be washed into the pit or into downstream waterways during major flood events.
- Long-term landscape destruction with no reclamation required. Operators in Texas are allowed to simply walk away after a site is mined, without returning it to a safe or useable condition.
- Dangerous and destructive trucking: heavy truck traffic has increased dramatically near new APOs, much on overloaded municipal, county and state FM roads. Speeding, illegal waste dumping on the roads and truck safety violations, spills, and damage to fences and other private property are apparent in most locations.
- Additional quality of life concerns include constant noise and odor, destruction of rural character and natural habitat and ecosystem function, light pollution, and blasting.
What does the State of Texas do today to address the negative impacts of APOs?
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is required to issue air quality permits to the aggregates industry. Only air quality concerns can be considered in issuing this permit, which disregards all of the industry’s other significant impacts.
From 2009 to 2019, 1,220 air quality permit applications were submitted to TCEQ. 1,143 were approved; 5 were denied; and 72 were withdrawn.
The State also requires the APOs to submit Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPP).
If an APO is located over the environmentally sensitive Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone (EARZ), an additional permit is required, the Water Pollution Abatement Plan (WPAP). According to TCEQ, a WPAP is a detailed plan that outlines best management practices that will be implemented in order to protect water quality.
The state does not engage in significant monitoring or enforcement to ensure that its minimal permit requirements are followed.
The air modeling that TCEQ uses to consider applications does not include cumulative effects of multiple APOs operating in the same area, as is often the case.
How quickly is the aggregates industry growing?
In the past five years, the number of registered quarries and other aggregate production facilities operating in Texas has grown from about 50 to nearly 1,000. Many of these are located in Central Texas—in some of the nation’s fastest growing counties—but the industry is growing in many parts of the state. As communities and neighborhoods grow around them, an industry that had largely operated out of sight in deeply rural areas is confronting opposition forces that argue their increase has outpaced state oversight.
What are other states doing to address the negative impacts of APOs?
43 states (see map below), representing 82% the nation’s aggregate industry activity, of the states have adopted comprehensive Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) like regulations. These regulations generally call for Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), mine plans, reclamations and bonding, water use planning, and road use/infrastructure planning. The APOs in these states are responsible for these areas, but costs are small, and the APOs continue to be profitable.
Are the same companies operating in Texas also operating successfully in these other states?
Yes, there are at least eight major APO’s operating in Texas (see chart below). Of these eight APOs, they operate successfully in 5, 7, 11, 18, 19, 23, 25, and 40 other states, respectively.
Have the regulations in other states been effective?
Yes. Environmental and Reclamation Costs are relatively small. A large APO adds a little over 3% to its operating cost, whereas a small APO adds just under 6%. There are also remarkable reclamation successes across the country in states as diverse as Kansas, Colorado, Maryland, and Washington. There have even been some successful reclamations here in Texas when private enterprises bought the property and turned it into golf courses, amusement parks and shopping centers.
What would the Texas Legislature need to do to bring Texas up to speed with other states?
- Begin by implementing components of the comprehensive regulation in SMCRA that applies to mining almost everywhere else in the U.S. Start with air particulate monitoring and dispersion modeling for the entire mining operation that includes nearby existing APO emissions.
- Enact water use planning by assessing, then addressing consumption, availability, and cumulative effects of large APO water use on regional water supplies. Also, address concerns including water quality impacts to aquifers, rivers, and wetlands as well as silting and flooding issues.
- Impose and manage the impacts of heavy truck loads on public infrastructure, limited capacity roads, truck emissions, dust generation, and truck safety.
- Require EIAs, mine plans, reclamation, and bonding.
- Address APO tailings pond designs (sand and aggregate mines) to ensure containment in expected operating conditions and storm events.
- Implement nuisance issue resolution by limiting quarry noise, light and odor trespass, and visible blight impacts on surrounding properties.