Last updated on 2011.05.11
State Representative Lance Russell's censure for unprofessional and illegal activity as Fall River County state's attorney is troubling to those of us who believe in fair execution of justice. The inability of Rep. Russell's fellow legislators to find his misconduct troubling is also troubling.
But here's a troubling policy issue: During this year's session, Rep. Russell co-sponsored Senate Bill 158, a tricky law passed on behalf of Canadian uranium mining firm Powertech. The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources denied two previous permit applications from Powertech to mine uranium at the south edge of the Black Hills. SB 158 conveniently removed state oversight of uranium mining permits and left the only authority over such dangerous activity in South Dakota in the hands of the regionally understaffed Environmental Protection Agency.
Rep. Russell got a master's degree from the environmental and natural resources program at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law. If you listen to him in this video from U.D., you hear the language of a lawyer trying to avoid specifics. He certainly doesn't talk about using his environmental studies to help the environment. Instead, he speaks of East River politicians who don't have the problem of lots of public lands and who are more interested in issues like water development. Russell criticizes the governor (his own Republican governor!) and federal legislators who he says just aren't interested in sparsely populated areas like his home turf. Notice that Russell doesn't say one word about the environment he lives in, just the people... which I suspect is code for the rich developers and companies that want to exploit the environment.
Russell's wonderful vagueness continues even as he speaks of a specific professor whose views on environmental protection apparently differed from Russell's. This professor was on the other side of litigation against the state of South Dakota on an issue on which Russell says he worked with Senator John Thune. Russell never says what the issue was, only that in this class with this professor, he "was the only one that came from that perspective." Translation: while everyone else in the class was studying environmental law to learn how to protect the environment, Russell was learning how craft legislation like SB 158 that would put foreign exploiters like Powertech ahead of local water quality, health, ranching, and tourism.
In the U.D. promo video, Russell says he's already drawn some paying clients for his environmental law knowledge, and he wants to specialize in the area of federal land use... emphasis, I fear, on the word use.