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During Environmental Protection Agency hearings in Hot Springs, South Dakota, on October 5, 2019, Misty Plenty Wolf was one of the 100 people who spoke against allowing Azarga Uranium Corp. to sink water wells in the Black Hills. Courtesy photo
EPA draws fire from OST
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Native Sun News Today Health & Environment Editor

PINE RIDGE, South Dakota – The Environmental Protection Agency broke two federal laws on November 24 by permitting underground water use for uranium mining and waste disposal at the proposed Dewey Burdock site in the southern Black Hills, according to Oglala Sioux Tribe Water Resources Department Administrator Reno Red Cloud Sr.

“The OST and environmental groups will be meeting next week and working on a response to this action,” he told journalists at a news conference following the EPA announcement. “We are aware of the EPA failure to comply with the NEPA-NHPA regulations for consultation. We will respond soon,” he said at the online conference.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe and numerous other intervenors already have taken the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and private foreign investors to federal court and administrative appeals boards over more than 10 years for violating the bedrock NEPA, or National Environmental Protection Act, and NHPA, or National Historic Preservation Act in pursuit of Dewey Burdock permits.

Tribal members and allies, pictured in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 2015, continue to express opposition to licensing of proposed Dewey Burdock radioactive extraction project, which regulators say could have a large impact on Lakota cultural resources. Photo by Native Sun News Today

Those two laws require government-to-government consultation between U.S. and tribal authorities when Native cultural resources are impacted by project permit requests, such as this one by Canada-based Chinese multi-national Azarga Uranium Corp. and its wholly owned subsidiary Powertech USA Inc.

Without conducting the consultation to the tribe’s satisfaction, the EPA announced it has proceeded to grant an exemption from compliance with the quality standards of the Clean Drinking Water Act and two permits to punch some 4,000 new injection well holes in the aquifers for this project.

“These permits reflect many years of evaluation and public comment on Powertech’s applications to recover uranium from ore-bearing formations at the Dewey-Burdock project location,” said EPA Regional Administrator Gregory Sopkin.

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The Dewey Burdock Project, a uranium development, would be located on 10,000 acres adjacent to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Azarga Uranium

The action is “based on a thorough consideration of scientific, technical and regulatory aspects of the permits, and a review of all comments received, including those received during tribal consultation. This process has contributed to the development of requirements that will protect the region’s groundwater while enabling the safe recovery of valuable uranium resources.”

The well permitting would satisfy the corporate proposal to use 8,500 gallons per minute of public water free-of-charge for mining and disposal indefinitely, directly affecting the Inyan Kara and Minnelusa aquifers most immediately.

Blake Steele, Azarga Uranium Corp. president and CEO, called the permitting a “critical milestone,” saying it “significantly de-risks our flagship asset, the advanced stage, low-cost Dewey Burdock Project, and moves the company substantially closer to becoming the next uranium producer in the U.S.A.”

The project would be the first radioactive in situ leach mining in South Dakota. It would be located on 10,000 acres of Custer and Fall River counties adjacent to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and upstream at the headwaters of the Cheyenne River in unceded 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty territory.

The in-situ technique leaches uranium from the rock by injecting chemicals into the underground water table to dissolve the deposits. Pumps force the minerals in solution through pipes to the surface. There, the radioactive material is refined into yellow cake for shipment to nuclear fuel and weapons manufacturers.

The exemption is needed to carry out the project because “the restoration of an in-situ leach-mined aquifer to pre-mining water quality is an impossibility,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says.

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