Black Hills, get ready to get nuked. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission yesterday issued a license to Powertech to operate a uranium recovery facility in Fall River and Custer counties in western South Dakota.

Powertech, or Azarga, or whoever this Canadian-Chinese company is now, crows:

Richard Clement, Powertech's President and Chief Executive Officer, said, "The issuance of the NRC's final license is the culmination of eight years of planning and evaluation and confirms again that our plan for in situ recovery mining at Dewey-Burdock is safe and will have minimal environmental impact. The robust nature of NRC's licensing process also greatly facilitates finalization of Powertech's other Dewey-Burdock permits."

"I am very pleased with NRC's decision to issue the final license for the Dewey-Burdock Project," said John Mays, Powertech's Chief Operating Officer. "The NRC and numerous other agencies that participated in the review and analysis necessary to complete licensing components are to be commended for their professionalism. Similarly, we congratulate the Dewey-Burdock team for its success in achieving the Company's foremost permitting objective, the NRC Source and Byproduct Materials License."

Mark Hollenbeck, Powertech's Dewey-Burdock Project Manager, concurred and added, "This license is a significant milestone for the project -- one made possible by not only Powertech's staff, contractors and consultants, but also local residents who have provided their vital support and perseverance throughout the NRC's licensing action. The community anxiously awaits the employment opportunities the project will bring. We thank everyone for their contributions and look forward to completing the remaining permits so construction can begin" [Powertech press release, 2014.04.08].

Powertech still needs approval from the EPA, as well as mining and water permits from the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The NRC ruling is a battle lost, but folks who respect the Black Hills still have a chance to stop this predation upon our land and water.

Update 12:55 MDT: Rapid City water drinker and tourism promoter John Tsitrian snorts at Powertech/Azarga's financials and questions their assurances to investors that the permitting process will be done by the end of May.


CNN reports what we South Dakotans know from experience: Chinese investors love the EB-5 visa investment program. According to yesterday's report, Chinese immigrants took almost 6,900 EB-5 visas in 2013, 81% of the total issued. Compare that with the 16 EB-5 visas issued to Chinese immigrants in 2004, the year South Dakota started leaning on the program to support large dairy projects in East River.

Immigration lawyers tell CNN Canada's decision to end a similar immigration program based on poor payoff has already driven more immigrants to apply for EB-5 visas. Rich Chinese looking to buy their green cards get a great bargain from the U.S.:

"The cost is very reasonable in relation to other countries," [immigration lawyer David] Hirson said. Australia, for example, requires a $4.5 million investment -- nine times the minimum required in the U.S. [Sophia Yan, "Rich Chinese Overwhelm U.S. Visa Program," CNNMoney, 2014.03.25]

Readers know I'm not nearly as fond of the EB-5 visa investment program as the handful of South Dakota players who've profited from it without proper state oversight. But let me reach for a silver lining to the Chinese takeover of the EB-5 visa quota:

For rich Chinese, opportunities in America are attractive. A green card offers a way to send their children to college, escape heavy pollution and enjoy an improved quality of life, said Kate Kalmykov, an attorney with Greenberg Taurig. Plus, the EB-5 program is relatively cheap [Yan, 2014.03.25].

These Chinese investors want to escape pollution. So when they come here and see the spate of oil spills and pipeline ruptures driven in part by their home country's increasing thirst for North American oil, those EB-5 immigrants may join our fight to protect their new home from the predations of TransCanada's China-bound Keystone XL pipeline, keep the price of driving their new American Cadillacs down, and leave a billion barrels of dirty tar sands oil in the ground. Save West River, and save the planet: bring on more EB-5 investors!


Rick Weiland makes clear he's my kind of Democrat. In a March 10 interview with Tasiyagnunpa Livermont on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, Weiland says that, polls be darned, he opposes the Keystone XL pipeline:

Weiland says proponents are exaggerating the domestic energy and jobs benefits:

The problem I've got with the Keystone piepline as its been proposed is that it's an export pipeline. Very little if any of the oil, tar sand oil, that's going to be coming through South Dakota is going to stay in the United States. Most of it's going overseas.

The other thing you hear about too is that it's supposed to create all these jobs, and... the last report I read, which was put out by the Government Accounting Office... basically says we're talking about 35 full-time jobs, permanent jobs, and we don't even know how many of those are going to be in South Dakota, and the 2,000 that its going to take to build the pipeline, those are temporary jobs.

The oil that's going to be shipped is really not going to contribute to our energy independence. And the jobs? It's not a jobs bill. Those are the two things that the proponents, the people that want to build Keystone are focused on, and... from the research I've done, that's just not the case.

So what you end up having... is an awful lot of risk associated with the construction of this and the potential for impacts on the environment and very little reward, and that's why I'm opposed to it [Rick Weiland, interview with Tasiyagnunpa Livermont, Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, 2014.03.10].

With such illusory benefits, South Dakota and the United States wouldn't really receive compensation for the significant risks Keystone XL would bring to, for example, the Ogallala aquifer:

...You look at what it takes in terms of the extraction of the oil and the energy that is consumed to do that, the transportation... they have to heat the tar sand up so it becomes almost liquefied, through a pipeline that crosses over precious water resources like the Ogallala and the potential for the damage that could occur, and the fact that we're not really getting anything for taking on that risk. I think that in and of itself is reason not to build it [Weiland, 2014.03.10].

Only demerits here: Weiland skips the part of Livermont's question about Keystone XL's crossing of Indian treaty land. Our Lakota neighbors are ready to wage war on the pipeline, in part because they contend TransCanada and the federal government have not sufficiently consulted with them in the permitting process. The bogus claims of jobs and energy independence are headline issues, but Keystone XL opponents should never miss the chance to build allies on the reservation and to remind all of us that TransCanada is pushing Keystone XL in ways that perpetuate centuries of abuse and neglect of Native interests.

But Weiland's explicit opposition to Keystone XL at least makes clear the door is open to the conversation about treaty rights, not to mention the property rights that South Dakota courts have surrendered to the foreign pipeline profiteers at TransCanada. This opposition is also one more sign that Weiland is willing to challenge big money when it acts against the best interests of South Dakota.


The Mitchell Daily Republic almost gets the Keystone XL pipeline. In this morning's editorial, the paper acknowledges that burning Canadian tar sands oil makes a messier planet. They admit the jobs created by the pipeline number only 2,000 and will last only a couple of years. (Remember: investing in water and gas infrastructure would create more jobs and do more good.) They acknowledge that China and India are driving demand and that Alberta's oil will be distributed around the world.

But the Mitchell paper still tangles itself in imperfection and says it's time to build the pipeline:

A recent report by the U.S. State Department highlights the jobs the pipeline would produce and characterizes its environmental risks as effectively neutral. Republicans and Democrats are joining across the aisle in support of the project.

It's time to stop haggling and let it happen [editorial, Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.02.12].

Never mind that the State Department got its Keystone XL report from folks who've worked for pipeline builder TransCanada. Never mind that we are not obliged to give in to other countries' energy demands at the expense of our environmental security. Never mind that the southern leg of Keystone XL is already raising oil prices and that the pipeline through West River will raise them more. We just shrug our Midwestern shoulders and give in to a bad idea, hoping someday, somewhere, someone will invent something better and clean up the mess we chose to make.

We can do better, MDR editors. We don't need Keystone XL.


Rep. Troy Heinert (D-26A/Mission) brings us House Bill 1193, a sensible effort to protect South Dakotans from the dangers of in situ leach uranium mining. Hoping to reverse the Legislature's history of handing out favors to potential polluters, Rep. Heinert wants to make companies like Powertech (today's stock price: eight cents!) meet a stronger burden of proof that their operations won't harm our water supplies.

HB 1193 adds three important requirements to in situ leach mining permits and projects:

  1. As part of the permit process, in situ leach uranium mining companies must show that their wastewater won't leak into other aquifers.
  2. Such mining companies must show their water restoration technology works, not just on paper, but in practice.
  3. When they're done mining, operators of in situ leach mines must restore groundwater to at least the quality it had before mining... something in situ leach uranium miners have had a really hard time doing.

We shouldn't be surprised that Heinert and fellow Democrats (Reps. Hawks, Killer, Parsley, Peterson, Schrempp, Tyler, and Senator Welke) are leading to the charge to protect South Dakotans from polluting corporate exploiters. Joining them are Republican Reps. Scott Craig (whose Black Hills constituents are keenly interested in protecting their drinking water) and Charlie Hoffman (who enjoys a good drink, but not one that glows).

Rep. Hoffman chairs the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which gets first crack at HB 1193. The bill isn't on an agenda yet, but contact those committee members now to tell them to stand up for sensible regulation and clean water.


Larry Kurtz is right: Governor Dennis Daugaard's Pheasant Habitat Summit in Huron yesterday was an exercise in absurdity. Daugaard spent time and money gathering hundreds of South Dakotans to fret and stew over the decline of a non-native species caused largely by his own industrial agricultural policies.

Strategic Conservation Solutions logoThe logo of the consulting firm brought in to speak to the issue says it all: one little sprout of green struggling up amidst rigid lines of row crops and pavement.

Larry links and adds his links to an excellent Iowa Public Radio report explaining how the decline of pheasants is all our fault:

As farmers across the Midwest have simplified the landscape and plowed up grassland to grow more cornand soybeans, habitat for pheasants, quail and other grassland birds has become increasingly scarce and their numbers are falling. In Nebraska, wild pheasant concentrations have fallen 86 percent since their peak in the 1960s. The pheasant harvest during hunting season in Iowa is off 63 percent from the highs reached in the 1970s. In areas that used to be overrun, you’ll struggle to find a pheasant now. [Grant Gerlock, "Pheasants Losing Habitat to Farmland," Iowa Public Radio, 2013.12.03].

Not hard to figure out, Dennis. Promote huge monoculture farms and ethanol over small, locally sustainable agriculture, and you're going to have fewer pheasants. And I didn't have to spend any tax dollars to come to that conclusion.


The big October blizzard gave Black Hills opponents of the Powertech uranium mining proposal an extra three weeks to prepare their arguments for their hearing before the South Dakota Water Management Board. Now Powertech itself has helped them gain more time to win their argument to the state that Powertech's in-situ uranium mining would be bad for the Black Hills.

On November 19, Powertech moved to postpone the next round of testimony before the Water Management Board. With opponents in full agreement, the board granted that continuance on Monday. This move mirrors a decision by the Board of Minerals and Environment earlier this month to postpone further hearings until both the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency have issued permits ot Powertech.

This wait-and-see is good in a way: the longer we wait, the more chance there is that Powertech will finally run out of money before it can win approval for its risky, ill-informed venture. But if federal authorities approve Powertech's permits, these delays give pro-business South Dakota regulators cover to ignore further protest from local activists and say, "The feds say it's o.k.; who are we to disagree?"

Powertech opponents, keep your briefs handy for the state boards, but now turn your fire to the federal regulators and Congressional delegation to let them know Powertech is bad for the Black Hills


Rep. Kristi Noem voted for more bad legislation yesterday. Joining a nearly unanimous Republican caucus against a just slightly less unanimous Democratic caucus, Rep. Noem voted for the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act.

Two reasons Noem voted wrong:

  1. The bill would give the Department of Interior only 60 days to act on applications to drill for oil or gas on public lands. Absent action, the drilling applications would receive automatic approval. If I'm a smart oil company, I get my lawyers to draw up 1,000 applications with lots of documentation, submit them all on April 1, hope Interior can only process 10 apps a day, and start drilling like crazy at 400 sites on May 31. Giving a federal agency only 60 days to analyze an issue is like saying to the FBI, "Sure, you can investigate South Dakota's EB-5 program, but if you can't find anything actionable in 60 days, then there must not be any corruption in the program." Some issues are more complicated than an arbitrary deadline set by Republican legislators as a favor to Big Oil.
  2. The bill includes a requirement that anyone filing a formal protest to a drilling application must pay a $5,000 fee. Imagine if folks opposed to the Powertech uranium mining permit in the Black Hills had to pay a fee like that to file for official intervenor status in the mining permit hearings. Imagine if the veterans who spoke at last week's Sioux Falls school board meeting had to buy a ticket at the door to protest the board's Pledge of Allegiance policy. Requiring folks who want to challenge government action to pay a fee for exercising their rights flies in the face of the First Amendment. But Rep. Noem votes to make the Constitution a pay-to-play document, open only to the highest bidders.

President Obama has said he'll veto this bill. If we send him a good Democrat in Rep. Noem's place next year, he won't have to work his veto pen so hard.


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