As the Board of Minerals and Environment convenes in Chairman Sweetman's conference room in Rapid City this morning, the Rapid City Journal does decent public service with a sprawling presentation of information related to PowerTech's proposal to dig for uranium with in-situ leach mines in the southern Black Hills.
Joe O'Sullivan's report gets Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker on record saying the fix is in:
"The board comes out to Rapid City, they hold their hearing in Rapid City, then silence the voices of Rapid City," Kooiker said.
"They appear to want to hear only one side," he added, "and it appears that a decision has already been made" [Joe O'Sullivan, "South Dakota Takes Hands-off Approach to Uranium Mining," Rapid City Journal, 2013.09.22].
Kooiker also tells O'Sullivan that Powertech and area legislators (Kooiker gives no names, but it's a small pool, easy to guess) pressured him hard to keep the Rapid City Council from passing its resolution opposing the mine. Friends of the Black Hills, keep Kooiker in mind as one politician willing to stand up to the usual political and economic pressures to do right by the Paha Sapa.
Daniel Simmons-Ritchie follows up with the following findings:
While no mining venture can prevent all risk, some in situ mines have had a dubious track record of regulatory compliance; from a mine in Texas that exposed workers in the 1980s to dangerously high levels of radiation, to a mine in Wyoming in 2008 that earned a $1.4 million fine from the state for failing to restore contaminated groundwater as promised.
There is consensus among federal regulators that, despite the promises of mining companies, groundwater at a mining site cannot be restored to its pre-mining condition. In every instance, regulators have had to relax restoration standards because escalated concentrations of certain chemicals, like uranium and arsenic, could not be reduced.
There is relatively little research on the movement of chemicals, like uranium, in groundwater once mining is finished. An analysis of groundwater samples by a hydrologist in Texas this year shows the first potential evidence of uranium flowing into a livestock well from a nearby mine. The state of Texas disputes those findings.
The regulation of in situ mining varies from state to state, but South Dakota could be particularly vulnerable to environmental risks due to a weakening of regulations and the state's abandonment of its rights to regulate the mine operations [Daniel Simmons-Ritchie, "Powertech Showdown: Critics Point to Loose Regulation and Contamination at Mines Across America," Rapid City Journal, 2013.09.23].
Simmons-Ritchie documents separately the troubles in-situ leach mining has caused in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Texas. Between the power games and the environmental risk, the handful of temporary extraction jobs PowerTech promises hardly seems worth risking the beautiful Black Hills and the water that keeps them alive. Mayor Kooiker's right to stand against political pressure and defend our Black Hills against uranium mining; let's hope he's wrong about our state's predetermined decision and that our officials will still listen today and say no to PowerTech's unsustainable plan.