The House State Affairs Committee amended and approved House Bill 1029 this morning. HB 1029 updates the environmental and energy-efficiency requirements created in 2008 for the construction and renovation of state buildings.

HB 1029 updates South Dakota statute to use the United States Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design latest standards, issued November 2013, instead of the July 2009 standards. HB 1029 also raises the threshold for requiring adherence to LEED standards from 5,000 square feet or $500,000 in construction cost to 10,000 square feet or $1,000,000 in construction cost.

Earlier this week, Dakota Rural Action blogger* Tony Helland raised his concern that doubling the square footage and dollar thresholds will reduce the state's energy savings and its commitment to reducing the state's environmental impact. No one at this morning's hearing raised that concern. In her testimony explaining why the Bureau of Administration requested HB 1029, State Engineer Kristi Honeywell simply said that smaller buildings cannot meet the LEED standards. (Hmm... an 872-square-foot dental office can do it, but hey, I'm a blogger, not an engineer....)

David Owen of the South Dakota joined Engineer Honeywell to advocate HB 1029. Interestingly, he noted that when the state proposed the original green-building requirements in 2008, the business sector raised its predictable hue and cry about government requirements. Owen summarized that resistance as "blah blah." He then told today's committee that the state was right, that the original LEED requirements were a good idea, and that the state has used the energy-efficiency requirements well. Keep that example in mind the next time you hear the Chamber of Commerce crying about government action killing jobs.

The American Chemistry Council (that's an ALEC pro-corporate lobby, not chemists) and the Black Hills Forestry Resources Association were on hand to oppose HB 1029. These two industry groups did not like the direction the original HB 1029 went in getting rid of some alternative rating systems from the green-building requirement. Larry Mann, lobbyist for the BHFRA, explained that in 2008, the LEED standards didn't allow credit for timber harvested from national forests. The inclusion of other standards friendlier to Black Hills timber was a compromise that made our green-building requirements tolerable to local industry. HB 1029 as written undid that compromise and raised hackles. But in her opening, Engineer Honeywell offered an amendment to put back updated versions of those alternative standards that the industry lobbyists found perfectly acceptable. Their opposition evaporated, and everyone at the table was happy.

Rep. Roger Solum (R-5/Watertown) posed an interesting question: does South Dakota need these green-building standards to qualify for any federal funding? Engineer Honeywell said no. Apparently, South Dakota has adopted green building standards out of the goodness of its heart.

Rep. Don Haggar (R-10/Sioux Falls) asked what the return on investment is for all this greenery. Engineer Honeywell didn't have the ongoing utility cost savings, but she did say that the up-front cost to get green-certified is less than 2% (I assume she means of the overall costs of the project).

Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) asked about the different LEED certification levels. Engineer Honeywell said there are four: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. South Dakota requires and will require post-HB 1029 silver LEED status. Rep. Bolin emphasized that that means we are requiring the second-lowest standard. We're green, but not that green...

...which evidently keeps these green-building requirements tolerable for most of our Republican legislators. House State Affairs passed the multi-standard amendment and House Bill 1029 as amended, with only Rep. Bolin's dissenting vote, for debate on the House floor.


*I really like sound of the words action blogger together. Let's make t-shirts! :-)

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I must give John Tsitrian kudos for catching Governor Dennis Daugaard in a brilliant contradiction. In Tuesday's Rapid City Journal, Governor Daugaard responds to a question about South Dakota's weak regulations on uranium mining by saying, "I don't like the notion that the state duplicates federal regulation. So, to the extent that the Atomic Energy Commission or the EPA is looking at this, I think we should let it run its course."

Tsitrian goes just seven months back and finds the Governor saying pretty much the opposite in a press release warning the feds off using the Clean Air Act to impose more regulations on power plants and calling the feds to recognize states as "co-regulators." Hee hee!

Further verbal chicanery lies in Daugaard's feigned preference for EPA regulations of uranium mining. His pal Senator Mike Rounds wants to eliminate the EPA; where would that leave our uranium mining regulations?

Inspired by Tsitrian to jump on the contradiction bandwagon, I scroll up through the Tuesday RCJ article and find another obvious whopper. Asked by RCJ's Meredith Colias about why he left education out of his State of the State Address and his funding priorities in favor of roads, Governor Daugaard dismissed complaints thus:

Bottom line is, you can’t spend money that you don’t have....

I try to give an increase to education every year … so I’m doing what I can with the resources available [Gov. Dennis Daugaard, interview with Meredith Colias, Rapid City Journal, 2015.01.20].

Um, Dennis? You don't have the money to fix the roads, either. You're proposing a plan that goes and gets more money (and still lets the roads get worse). Tell us again: why can you go get money that we don't have now for roads but not go get money that we don't have now for schools?

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Keystone XL wouldn't be such a bad project if pipeline builder TransCanada could assure us that it would pay for cleaning up whatever messes the pipeline might make if it spills tar sands oil in our fair state. Oil companies provide us that assurance by paying an eight-cents-per-barrel excise tax on the oil they ship into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. (One barrel produces 19 gallons of gasoline, among other products, so that tax adds far less than a penny to the price you pay at Kum & Go.)

But not TransCanada, not on Keystone XL. Back in 2011, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that tar sands oil imported into the U.S. is exempt from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund tax, because it's "synthetic petroleum," not "oil."

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) tried last week to amend the Keystone XL bill to require TransCanada to pay that cleanup tax on the tar sands oil it seeks to ship across South Dakota:

If you break it, you buy it, and if you spill oil over the heartland of America, you should pay for its cleanup. In recent years, we have witnessed major pipeline breaks in Michigan, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota, spewing oil in these communities. Instead of getting a $24 million-a-year tax break not afforded to other pipeline companies, TransCanada should be held responsible if they put America’s environment and the health of American citizens at risk [Rep. John Garamendi, floor statement, 2015.01.09].

Rep. Garamendi is talking basic responsibility. But if I'm reading the roll calls right, his amendment, rolled into a motion to recommit, failed on a straight party-line vote, with every Republican in the room, including our Rep. Kristi Noem, saying that making TransCanada pay for its messes is too much responsibility for our corporate Canadian friends to bear.

Hmm... I wonder if Congresswoman Noem picks up all of her son's dirty socks for him every weekend when she comes home from Washington.

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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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The Washington Post editorial board says opponents and supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline are all exaggerating:

Despite what you might have heard, the pipeline wouldn’t kill the planet, nor would it supercharge the economy. You don’t have to take our word for either assertion: The State Department has said so; nonpartisan energy experts have said so; The Post’s Fact Checker has said so. Keystone XL should have been treated like a routine infrastructure project from the beginning of the permitting process — six years ago. Instead, the issue has been blown far out of proportion ["Return the Keystone XL Issue to Reality," Washington Post, 2015.01.11].

I agree with WaPo's dismissal of both the climate-change and economic arguments, but they oversimplify the problem. I've never beat the drum on the climate-change impact of the pipeline, because (a) I agree that blocking this single pipeline won't stop oil companies from mining the Canadian tar sands, (b) I know that here in South Dakota, concern about climate change won't get me any traction in a policy debate, and (c) there's a whole tub of other reasons to oppose the pipeline.

The WaPo editorial mentions the argument that all the Keystone XL oil will go to China and elsewhere. They dismiss that argument, saying the oil goes to U.S. Gulf refineries and that at least half of the oil currently refined at the Gulf stays in the U.S. WaPo seems impervious to changing economic facts, like decreasing U.S. demand and the business case enunciated by TransCanada itself, that make clear that this additional tar sands oil is destined for overseas consumption and will not affect U.S. energy independence one whit.

The WaPo editorial entirely ignores the other valid concerns Americans along the pipeline route have raised. Landowners on the Great Plains are being forced through eminent domain to bear the costs of disruption to their agricultural operations and future land-use plans. We are being forced to accept avoidable risk to the vital Ogallala Aquifer. We are being forced to facilitate the ongoing addiction to every dirtier fossil fuels. And we are being sold this pipeline on a steady series of Big Oil exaggerations and lies.

Sure, Keystone XL won't single-handedly destroy the planet. But it does other harm through eminent domain and unnecessary environmental risk, and it fails to deliver the advantages its backers have promises. When we're having a policy debate, it's not enough to prove that one harm won't happen. You have to prove benefits will happen and that other harms will not outweigh. Keystone XL fails that test.

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Remember how Mike Rounds told us that Keystone XL would help South Dakota farmers by freeing up rail cars to haul grain instead of oil? Farm and blog friend Don Carr notices that, once Rounds was safely elected, the South Dakota Corn Growers changed their tune and admitted that the tar sands pipeline would not free up that much rail for farm products (a "blip on the radar," said SDCGA president Keith Alverson).

Carr contends that Rounds is putting Big Oil over Big Corn:

Rounds offered tepid support at best for one of South Dakota’s biggest ag products saying corn ethanol’s role was only as an oxygenate – not a ringing endorsement. And Rounds proudly took money from interests looking to upend the corn ethanol mandate. Meanwhile his challenger called for a dramatic increase in the blend of corn ethanol to 30% in U.S. gas tanks and was the only one to offer an agriculture policy plan [Don Carr, "Keystone Forces Corn Farmer Quandary," Republic of Awesome, 2015.01.06].

Apparently the Big Ag interests who backed Rounds are less interested in promoting their energy production than in blocking regulation of their pollutants:

American water quality is declining due to agriculture pollutants. Regulation is an increasingly viable option. For those reasons defeating the EPA rule has become agriculture’s main quest. So much so that they’re willing to jump in bed with declared enemies and let campaign lies slide [Carr, 2015.01.06].

By backing Rounds, the corn lobby is saying it wants to increase the chances of oil pollution on the prairie while fighting efforts to curb their own polluting activities. They have thus thrown in with a 100% pro-pollution Congressional delegation.

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David Montgomery says Governor Dennis Daugaard proposed a "modest" 2.5% increase in the FY 2016 budget because of a slow state economy:

The cautious increase was spurred by a lukewarm economy. The state's revenue is growing slowly — not enough to pay for massive new spending programs.

Instead, Daugaard offered a collection of minor initiatives... [David Montgomery, "$4.3B Proposed Budget Includes $49M in New Spending," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.12.02].

Bob Mercer calls Governor Daugaard's economic forecast "gloomy":

Coming out of the recession in 2011 and 2012, South Dakota’s economy looked to be on a solid path of recovery. Now it seems the recovery was short. The state sales-tax growth so far in fiscal 2015 that began July 1 of this year didn’t meet the forecast set by the Legislature when the fiscal 2015 budget for state government was approved. The governor’s recommended budget for fiscal 2016 that starts July 1, 2015, estimates sales-tax revenues will grow 4.1 percent. He said that’s below average. He also mentioned that U.S. job growth on a percentage basis is now outpacing South Dakota [Bob Mercer, "Colder Economy Ahead for South Dakota?" Pure Pierre Politics, 2014.12.04].

Wait a minute. Governor Daugaard keeps telling us that if we focus on economic development, that great influx of businesses and investment and jobs will generate more revenue, which we will then be able to use to pay our teachers more and patch more potholes and bolster more bridges without raising taxes. That's the game we've played for four years, and what does it get us? Lower than expected economic growth? A measly 2% increase in education that barely keeps up with inflation, never mind make real improvements?

We can't blame Obama, can we? The U.S. economy trucked along at 4.6% growth second quarter and 3.9% third quarter. South Dakota's sales tax revenues grew by about the same amount. If Dennis Daugaard's policies are better than Barack Obama's, South Dakota should be outperforming the nation.

Are we supposed to wait for Keystone XL? TransCanada already built one awesome tar sands pipeline across our fair state five years ago. Where is the incredible uptick in public revenue from Keystone 1?

Are we supposed to wait for welfare recipient Bel Brands to ship its billionth baby cheese wheel down I-29? The state already subsidized Valley Queen and Lake Norden Cheese into existence with EB-5 money for dairies and state funds for roads and gubernatorial dairy recruitment. Why aren't we already swimming in milky riches?

The whole governmental justification for Daugaardonomics is to produce more revenue for government. But four years of Dennis Daugaard's business-über-alles policymaking has produced no discernible fiscal benefits.

Dennis, you said this plan would work. It's not working. Why don't we try a different plan?

Why don't we try investing some of our own money up front? Let's decide this session we're tired of waiting for Santa Koch and the Trickle Fairy. We're tired of waiting for some Daddy Subsidy-Bucks to move here and plant money trees outside his feedlot. We're tired of imagining we can solve all of our problems with someone else's money.

Let's decide this session that we're going to make a serious, sustained investment in our schools, our roads, and our natural resources.

  1. We're going to raise every South Dakota teacher's pay by $2,500 next year and keep going until the end of FY 2019, by which time we will have raised South Dakota teacher pay by $10,000. We will pay for it by eliminating tax exemptions for commercial fertilizer, pesticides, and certain lodging or by imposing a corporate income tax as a down payment on maintaining a well-trained workforce, not to mention a citizenry fully equipped for democracy.
  2. We will adopt in full the proposals of Senator Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell) and the interim Highway Needs and Financing Committee to invest $144 million in unmet highway maintenance needs. (And when John Thune, Kristi Noem, and Mike Rounds fly back from Washington, we will send the Highway Patrol to detain them at the airport and send them right back to D.C. unless and until they have passed legislation to save the federal Highway Trust Fund.)
  3. We will defund the Future Fund and the entire Governor's Office of Economic Development and reassign every dollar and every FTE to the DENR and the GF&P. Those funds and staff will be used to allow DENR to step up enforcement of existing permits and regulations and to help GF&P keep our parks beautiful and accessible.

Investing immediately in our schools, our roads, and our natural resources isn't any more radical than inserting government into the free market to pick winners and hope they reciprocate with trickle-down economics. Investing in good teachers, solid bridges, clean water, and nice parks can't hurt South Dakota. Plus, such investments in public goods are exactly the kind of work government is supposed to be doing (read your Adam Smith, you commies).

Let's just try it, seriously, for four years. January 2019, we look around and see if South Dakota has gone up in flames. We see if we still have a teacher shortage. We see if Bel Brands and Gehl and Citibank have left (on our really smooth roads and stable bridges). We see if Minnesotans are throwing eggs at our Mall of America booth to protest our clean water and nice parks.

And if we don't like the looks of government prioritizing its proper Adam Smithian role of investing in public goods, we can go right back our centrally planned, crony capitalist Do-Guard-Your-Profits-onomics.

Legislators, who's game? You can make that your agenda now... or I can just save that up for our Democratic gubernatorial candidate's platform in 2018.

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Hey, that's my neighbor Charlie Johnson on the YouTube!

Actually, it's an ad from the Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing. But it's also a great nutshell explanation of the Organic farming philosophy Charlie inherited from his dad Bernard: "What goes on this land has to go on our tongue first." (I invite you to take up with Charlie what that means about his use of manure as fertilizer.)

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