Environment | Politics

Native Sun News: Lakota group pushes tribes on uranium bill

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman. All content © Native Sun News.

PIERRE — South Dakota will surrender oversight of water quality in uranium mining and related injection wells if Gov. Dennis Daugaard signs a bill that just passed the state legislature.

The non-profit Lakota organization Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way) is calling on tribal government representatives to urge that Daugaard reject the initiative, which arises from the Canadian-owned Powertech USA Inc.’s proposal to conduct the first ever in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mining in South Dakota.

“If the governor does sign SB158, he is dooming not only the current people of South Dakota and the surrounding area, as well as the plant nation and animal nation, the water, land, and air, but also the future for thousands of years, in order to accommodate corporate share-holders’ profits,” Owe Aku founder Debra White Plume told the Native Sun News.

The bill is entitled: “An Act to toll the Department of Environment and Natural Resources administrative rules on underground injection control Class III wells and ISL mining until the department obtains primary enforcement authority of the comparable federal programs.” The verb “toll” means “suspend” in legal language.

Powertech has failed in two attempts to obtain state approval for a South Dakota Class III Underground Injection Control permit for the uranium mine and processing plant proposed in the Black Hills about 13 miles northwest of Edgemont, at the Dewey Burdock site in Fall River and Custer counties, which adjoin the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Currently, a Class III Underground Injection Control permit is one of several state permits required before an ISL mine can begin construction or operation in South Dakota. The federal government is in charge of other related permits processed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The purpose of this particular state permit is to ensure protection of underground sources of drinking water by evaluating aquifer conditions, identifying potential risks to water quality as a result of the injection process, as well as establishing protection plans and restoration requirements, according to the S.D. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. White Plume warned that the protection could be relaxed if Daugaard signs the bill. “It is impossible to clean up an aquifer after ISL mining of uranium,” she added. “Will that be his legacy?”

Backers of the bill suggested that continuing to have both state and federal regulation of uranium mining implies unwanted duplication of effort. But White Plume argued that the deadly radioactive properties of uranium, as well as water conservation, warrant maximum oversight.

“Why make it easier for corporations to damage our environment?” she said. “It takes generations of human life for radioactivity to slowly become less deadly.”

Instead, she said, “Human beings must learn to change their viewpoint of energy use. The impacts of environmental degradation far outweigh the necessity of making life easier for by providing electricity for any and all needs,” she said.

Senators responsible for introducing the bill were Republican Timothy Rave (Hanson, McCook, Minnehaha), Republican Corey Brown (Campbell, Edmunds, Faulk, Hyde, McPherson, Potter), Republican Bob Gray (Hughes, Stanley, Sully), Democrat Jim Hundstad (Brown, Spink), Republican Russell Olson (Lake, Miner, Moody, Sanborn), and Republican Bruce Rampelberg (Custer, Fall River, Pennington).

Representatives responsible for introducing it were Republican Val Rausch (Brookings, Deuel, Grant, Moody), Republican Justin Cronin Campbell, Edmunds, Faulk, Hyde, McPherson, Potter, Walworth), Democrat Paul Dennert (Brown, Spink), Republican Brian Gosch (Pennington), Republican David Lust (Pennington), Republican Lance Russell (Custer, Fall River, Pennington), and Republican Mike Verchio (Custer, Fall River, Pennington).

Native American legislators voted with the minority, against the measure.

ISL mining entails pumping brine into an ore body to dissolve solids and bring them to the surface, then disposing the waste solution underground or on the land. The mining technique already is employed in other states, including adjacent Nebraska and Wyoming.

Powertech USA Inc.’s Vice President for Environmental Health and Safety Richard Blubaugh had submitted a revised permit application to the state early last year, asking that a vertical section of the Inyan Kara aquifer be set aside for uranium mining beneath 67 percent of the 10,850-acre Dewey Burdock Project area.

“This allows recovery of mineral resources and an adequate area to safely operate the recovery process without contaminating or threatening to contaminate underground sources of drinking water,” Blubaugh said in a letter to authorities.

South Dakota Ground Water Quality Program Hydrology Specialist Brian J. Walsh rejected the application, claiming it was incomplete, like a previous one the company made in 2009.

“In general the application lacks sufficient detail to address fundamental questions related to whether Powertech can conduct the project in a controlled manner to protect ground water resources,” Walsh said in a letter to Blubaugh.

(Talli Nauman is co-director of Journalism to Raise Environmental Awareness. Contact her at talli.nauman@gmail.com)

Join the Conversation