House Bill 1201, which Dakota Rural Action has deemed the worst of the CAFO bills in this year's Legislative Session, heads to Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources this morning at 10:00. HB 1201, the only bill on the committee's agenda, would make it harder for citizens concerned about stink, water contamination, and other damage caused by big livestock feedlots to block such harmful ag-industrial developments in their neighborhoods.

Dakota Rural Action's excellent legislative blog notes that the state, which views farming as nothing but economic development, not land stewardship or community building, goes to great lengths to promote big CAFOs. This post from Meghan Thoreau describes the state's County Site Analysis Program and its focus on Big Ag:

The Program has been under development for the past several years and involves several key players, such as the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, First District Association of Local government, Planning and Development District III, Turner County Landowner Value Added Finance Authority Board Member and a few others. As it stands today the program is attempting to grow AG related industries through pre-qualifying sites for Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or Agriculturally Related Industrial Development (ARID), such as ethanol plants, cheese plants, granaries, and agricultural manufactures alike. The current methodology and analysis applied is very landowner and CAFO-ARID-operator centric, involving the landowners of pre-qualifying sites and operators of CAFO and ARID industries, with no great effort to secure public participation in the selection of sites, nor communities’ or the environment’s interests. (The only environmental factor taken into account is the area within the protected aquifer zone.) [Meghan Thoreau, "South Dakota's County Site Analysis Program," Dakota Rural Action legislative blog, 2015.02.25]

The County Site Analysis Program isn't about helping counties identify good locations for community gardens, farmers markets, or other small-scale agricultural projects that would promote sustainability and local self-sufficiency. The state wants factory farms. The County Site Analysis Program flags land for such development, and now House Bill 1201 seeks to weaken the review process that allows citizens to weigh the pros and cons of dedicating their land and water to meat and milk factories.

The state already gives factory farms numerous advantages. Let's not take away the few remaining advantages citizens have to protect their counties from over-industrialization. Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources, vote no today on HB 1201.

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Dakota Rural Action does not like concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Big feedlots pose a greater risk to land, water, and air quality than other forms of agriculture.

Dakota Rural Action has managed to knock down two bills promoting CAFOs in the 2015 Legislature. House Bill 1173 threatened to make folks who appeal zoning decisions for CAFOs pay for their failed appeals; DRA got that bill hoghoused down to a mere clarification of existing statute. Senate Bill 127 would have weakened South Dakota's Family Farming Act by allowing corporations to own hog farms. DRA members called Pierre enough to get prime sponsor Senator Arthur Rusch (R-17/Vermillion) to pull the plug on his bill.

Now Dakota Rural Action is fighting what it calls the worst of this Session's CAFO bills. House Bill 1201 moves decisions on conditional-use permits from elected county officials to appointed boards of adjustment. It changes the vote threshold for approving conditional use permits from two-thirds to simple majority. Essentially, this bill makes it easier for the state and corporations to push more CAFOs into counties. It ignores the basic parliamentary rule that "suspending the rules," which we do when we allow a CAFO or any other development to break the normal building and environmental rules with a "conditional use," requires something larger than a simple majority vote.

House Local Government passed HB 1201 last Thursday 10–3, with Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland) briefly emerging from her GOP confusion and voting with Democratic Rep. Paula Hawks (D-9/Hartford) and Rep. Karen Soli (D-15/Sioux Falls) against the corporate CAFO agenda. DRA is now focused on educating members of the House, who have today and tomorrow to act on HB 1201 before the deadline to send bills to the opposite chamber.

Related Tweeting: Mike Henriksen makes a connection between HB 1201 and South Dakota's declining farm numbers:

Update 10:06 CST: Dakota Rural Action summarizes its opposition to HB 1201 in this open letter to legislators, which DRA invites you to sign:

What the bill really does is this: it takes decision-making power on conditional use permits out of the hands of elected officials and puts it in the hands of appointed boards of adjustment, where the only recourse for an appeal is to go straight to court. It then allows counties to lower the number of votes needed to approve conditional use permits from 4/5 to 3/5, even though all other decisions still require a 4/5 vote. And finally, the bill is the first step in codifying a conditional use site certification program, one which would completely cut out public participation in the siting, review, and approval of conditional uses even though these decisions can have huge impact on surrounding properties, farms, ranches, and businesses [Dakota Rural Action, open letter to South Dakota Legislature, February 2015].

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Graphic of the Week Award goes to Dakota Rural Action for this banner announcing a rally for clean water and democracy:

DRA Voice Vote Values anti-CAFO banner Feb 2015

Dakota Rural Action is holding the "Rally to Protect Our Voice, Our Vote, and Our Values" Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at the Downtown River Greenway Amphitheater (on the Big Sioux between 6th and 8th Streets) in Sioux Falls.

DRA is steamed about three bills that threaten water quality and the people's right to participate in local zoning decisions:

HB 1173 - Introduced by Representative Qualm (R-21) and Senator Cammack (R-29), this bill would penalize citizens appealing land zoning decisions seen as frivolous. Since courts already have the authority to award damages in frivolous or malicious suits (SDCL 15-17-51), this bills is clearly targeted at preventing citizens from challenging zoning decisions made in their county.

SB 127 - Introduced by Senator Rusch (R-17) and Representative Rasmussen (R-17), this bill would create an exemption to South Dakota law allowing non-family farm corporations to own and operate hog confinements in South Dakota.

HB 1201 - Introduced by Representative Mickelson (R-13) and Senator Cammack (R-29), this bill would reduce the number of votes needed on a county board of adjustment to allow a conditional use permit from 4 out of 5 to 3 out of 5, making it easier for CAFOs to get these permits and move forward [Dakota Rural Action, open letter to South Dakota Legislature, 2015.02.03].

You can sign that open letter, too, and let your legislators know you are tired of their facilitation of the corporate colonization of South Dakota. You can also make legislators hear your voice in person: After briefing the troops, DRA will take its rally to Saturday's Legislative Coffees (apparently Sioux Falls is too sophistimacated to call 'em crackerbarrels): Session 1 starts at 9 a.m. with legislators from Districts 6, 9, and 10; Session 2 starts at 10:45 with legislators from Districts 11 and 12. Both public fora are at the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown... where DRA will be out in force guardin' your voice and your water.

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Custer County uranium mining informational event, hosted by Dakota Rural Action, January 15, 2015

(click to embiggen—share with your neighbors!)

Dakota Rural Action is educating South Dakotans on the risks of uranium mining in the southern Black Hills. The group is hosting a free information session tonight (January 15) at the Custer County Courthouse Annex Pine Room in Custer from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. MST. DRA will have experts on hand to talk about the impacts Azarga/Powertech's plan to mine uranium in Custer and Fall River counties may have on water, agriculture, and public safety.

Among the topics sure to be discussed will be geologist Hannan LaGarry's newly released analysis of previous uranium exploration data from the area indicating that improperly capped boreholes and certain natural features of the local geology may pose a greater risk of contamination from in situ recovery mining operations than either Azarga or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have let on.

Also worthy of discussion tonight are new rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (and brought to our attention by Donald Pay—thank you!) to regulate in situ recovery uranium mining. The EPA would impose standards for groundwater recovery. Miners in polluted aquifers would actually get a break: they would only have to restore groundwater to pre-mining conditions—i.e., undo their own pollution but not the pre-existing contaminants. The EPA rules would allow mining companies to propose alternate restoration standards if they can show that meeting the EPA standards is not feasible.

So put on your science hats and come to Custer tonight to talk about the proper balance between economic development and environmental protection in the Black Hills.

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NoKXL Rally, State Capitol, Pierre, South Dakota, January 6, 2015, 9:30 a.m.Session doesn't start until January 13, but dedicated citizens will be heating up the Capitol next week with a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Oceti Rising and Dakota Rural Action are holding a #NoKXL Rally on Tuesday, January 6. They invite all interested citizens (and all citizens should be interested!) to the Public Utilities Commission hearing that starts at 9:30 a.m. in Room 413 of the Capitol. After hearing twelve electrical service territory boundary requests and Northwestern Energy's 20% rate hike request, the PUC will turn to the Yankton Sioux Tribe's motion to dismiss TransCanada's application for re-certification of its Keystone XL permit. As I reported on December 8, the Yankton Sioux Tribe contends that a "Tracking Table of Changes" submitted this fall by TransCanada with its application includes 30 modifications that render the proposed pipeline a different project from that which the PUC permitted in 2010. The tribe thus argues that TransCanada must apply for a whole new permit and submit to a whole new lengthy permit process.

On Monday, Dakota Rural Action and the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes filed motions to join the Yankton Sioux Tribe's motion, while the Rosebud Sioux Tribe filed a similar motion to dismiss. TransCanada contends the tribes' argument is illogical; things change, Keystone XL can still meet the permit conditions, and the tribes cite no law, statute, or case law to back their argument. PUC staff attorney Kristen N. Edwards recommends the PUC deny the motion to dismiss, saying that the significance of the listed project changes is better determined in discovery and the evidentiary hearing later this year.

Win or lose before the PUC Tuesday morning, the NoKXL Ralliers will have a prayer rally in the Capitol Rotunda after the hearing.

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Dakota Rural Action's stance on the Keystone XL pipeline has evolved from an initial careful accommodation, seeking the safest pipeline and fairest deals possible for landowners, to the current call to stop to the tar sands pipeline.

Paul Seamans, hay grower, landowner threatened by Keystone XL

Paul Seamans, hay grower, landowner threatened by Keystone XL

DRA Board Chairman Paul Seamans has undergone a similar evolution in his thinking. He grows hay in Jones County, south of Draper. When TransCanada first contacted him in 2008, he didn't think the proposed pipeline would be a big deal, but he expected better treatment. In their first substantive contact, TransCanada made it what called its best, non-negotiable offer, one that would only go down if Seamans didn't accept and forced TransCanada to invoke eminent domain.

Seamans didn't care to gamble on a lawyer and a judge. Eventually, unenthusiastically, Seamans signed the easement that would allow TransCanada to lay its 36-inch, 830,000-barrel-per-day tar sands pipeline across his property.

But then in November 2011, President Barack Obama issued his first delay of the project. That delay and the subsequent delay last April have bought folks like Seamans time to learn more about the pipeline and the oil it will carry and to realize fighting TransCanada may not be futile. Those delays have caused the expiration of the permit TransCanada received from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, opening the door to what PU Commissioner Gary Hanson indicated last spring would likely be "protracted hearings"—read, hearings where Seamans, other landowners, and allies from national organizations like 350.org can raise all sorts of heck.

Among his most important allies, says Seamans, are the tribes. Seamans says an important moment in the evolution of his thinking came in a meeting with indigenous folks from Canada who came to explain the harm done in Alberta by tar sands extraction. Seamans says he and fellow landowners hadn't interacted much with tribes of any sort, local or foreign, before they found this common issue. Seamans says he was struck in his very first meeting with tribal allies by the ironic realization that now he and his white neighbors are the ones being forced to surrender their land to foreign invaders. Now you know how we feel echoes in the words of every tribal ally to whom Seamans speaks about Keystone XL.

Seamans is optimistic that he, the tribes, and other grassroots allies can beat a fifty-billion-dollar corporation. I'm optimistic that these new alliances will build some white-Indian trust that will translate into recognition of common ground and cooperation on more South Dakota issues.

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Rickstock isn't the only political musical extravanganza taking place in the Black Hills this weekend. To warm up for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's hearing on Powertech/Azarga's application to start an in-situ leach uranium mine in the southern Black Hills, Dakota Rural Action is hosting a pre-hearing concert and rally at the Allen Ranch near Hot Springs on Sunday:

  • Where: Allen Ranch, 13065 Fall River Road, Hot Springs, SD
  • When: Sunday, August 17, 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
  • Who: Music featuring Australian Wayne Brennan, Open Mike Band, plus other local artists.
  • Whee! Camping! Stay overnight and attend the NRC public comment sessions the next day…to reserve a camp site, RV site, or tipi call 605-745-1890.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) will take public input on Powertech/Azarga's application on Monday, August 18, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Mueller Civic Center, 801 S. 6th Street, Hot Springs, SD. Citizens may speak for up to five minutes on water, land, and historical/cultural concerns.

The ASLB then decamps to Rapid City for three days to hold its evidentiary hearing August 19-21 at the Alex Johnson Hotel, 523 6th St., from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We don't get to comment, but we can watch our neighbors make their case for protecting the Black Hills from more uranium mining.

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While this blog conducts a happy exercise in citizen law-drafting (four bills under discussion, and polling for a fifth!), some of you may be wondering just how the Legislature works and what you can do to follow the Legislative process.

Our friends at Dakota Rural Action are offering a webinar on how to use the website of the South Dakota Legislature.

Have you ever gone on to the Legislature's website and wondered how on earth to find a bill? Or tried to find a certain law, and found yourself looking at a map of legislative districts?

The Legislative Research Council has a good, newly-designed website which, if you know how to use it, can really help you understand South Dakota's rules, laws, and legislature.

In this webinar, we'll talk about:

  • The difference between laws and rules, and how they work together to create our regulatory landscape.
  • How to get to various pieces of information during the session, like bills and resolutions, or when committees meet.
  • How to use E-Subscribe (My LRC), the part of the website that tracks bills and committees for you!

Citizen participation isn't just something we talk about - it is something we do! Having the right information is key to making your case, and this webinar will help you get access to that information [Dakota Rural Action, "LRC Website Webinar," posted 2014.01.03].

This one-hour online seminar will take place Monday, January 13, 2014, the day before the Legislature convenes, at 3 p.m. Mountain, 2 p.m. Central. Register online, and DRA will contact you with the technical details of how to log on and learn.

DRA is also offering a webinar on distributed power generation, an issue on which DRA will be educating and advocating during the 2014 session. That online seminar takes place Wednesday, January 8, at 2 p.m. Mountain, 1 p.m. Central.

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