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Mercer Dings DRA for Asking Legislature to Study Mining, Energy Regulations

Well, at least he didn't call Dakota Rural Action "liberal"....

Reporter Bob Mercer says he's not mocking nor criticizing Dakota Rural Action, but he takes DRA to task for not presenting specific needs or dangers to persuade the Legislature's Executive Board to study uranium mining and energy issues:

The organization’s lobbyist, Sabrina King, testified to the board Tuesday, calling for a look at what other states have done or failed to do regarding mining. She said one such area is “frac-sand” mining. The sand is used in the fracking process that busts open underground formations so that more oil can be extracted. As the study committee on oil and gas found last year, there was room for improvement in South Dakota’s laws. Unfortunately, Dakota Rural Action didn’t present examples to the board Tuesday of specific inadequacies in South Dakota’s laws and regulations regarding gold, uranium and sand mining [Bob Mercer, "The Shortfall of Dakota Rural Action," Pure Pierre Politics, 2013.04.24].

"Shortfall"... that sounds like criticism to me.

Mercer continues his criticism by claiming DRA relied on fear instead of evidence of real problems while lobbying for what he characterizes as costly and unnecessary regulations on mining.

DRA's Sabrina King responds:

Mercer states there was no information given to the Board about specific inadequacies in South Dakota law. Those were referenced in the original request, as well as in subsequent emails and conversations both I and many of our members have had with legislators. I’m not sure if he was expecting references to specific statues or what – but the issues are clear, have been heavily discussed, and when it comes to frac sands mining, there wouldn’t be specific statues to point to anyway, as they don’t exist; that was the whole point [Sabrina King, "The Shortfall of Bob Mercer -- and the SD Executive Board," Dakota Rural Action, 2013.04.24].

King also challenges Mercer's assertions about DRA's efforts during the 2013 Legislative session:

I can’t say whether Bob Mercer was actually at any of the hearings on the gold or uranium bills, but I certainly don’t remember seeing him there. More importantly, not once – ever – has he called up anyone from Dakota Rural Action or the Clean Water Alliance to discuss mining. We presented more data, studies, reports, and actual information about the risks of uranium mining than the proponents did of its benefits (many of which were outright lies). We showed the issues that have been found at uranium mining sites in Wyoming and Nebraska. Our testimonies were laden with facts and figures, as well as with personal stories of those who would be directly affected by uranium mining in the Black Hills.

Furthermore, Mercer’s comment that our requests would have had no benefit to the general public or the environment is purely his interpretation and is not correct – at all. Ensuring permit violations are reported in a timely manner, and ensuring our aquifers are not permanently contaminated for a temporary mining operation have clear benefits to both the public and the environment, but I get the feeling Mercer didn’t actually read any of the bills we supported, nor did he listen to our testimony or read the information we presented [King/DRA, 2013.04.24].

It is worth noting that as Mr. Mercer criticizes DRA for asking that the Legislature study our regulations to find out if there are problems we should address, he reports without commentary on the Legislature's decision to pay outsiders to study its own staffing needs, even though the Legislative Research Council has presented no evidence that unmet staffing needs exist or that such money should be spent. If the Legislature can commission a study to discover its own specific problems, citizen groups like DRA ought to be able to request studies to discover specific problems in mining and energy regulations that could have much broader public impact.


  1. Roger Elgersma 2013.04.25

    Uranium mining is the only mining that I know of that does not use a shovel like they do with coal. To mine uranium they drill two holes deep into the ground and pump water down one and up the other. This is intended to rinse the uranium into the well that they are pumping out of. But there is still gravity. So some of the uranium actually will go down to the aquafer while some of the uranium will go to the other well. So after the miners use massive amounts of water to do the mining, all the rest of the water in the aquafer will be poluted also. So then what will you drink and shower with. You will be drinking and showering with water with uranium in it. See how that helps tourism and your economy.

  2. Donald Pay 2013.04.25

    If memory serves me, SD laws and regulations actually ban the type of injection wells used for in-situ mining of uranium. At least that's what I remember from the hearings a South Dakota environmental board had on those matters. Those regulations were passed after careful study by the very board that Mercer says should be in control of the issue.

    So, Mercer seems rather biased in his selection of who should and should not seek legislative remedy. It was, after all, Powertech that got legislation passed to toll SD laws and regulations on the matter so that the ban on ISL injection wells doesn't apply. I don't recall that Mercer kicked up any complaints about that little corporate runaround of South Dakota laws and boards, but when DRA simply wants to study the matter, then it's a "hoop."

  3. Bob Mercer 2013.04.25

    To see all of the points on this matter you need to go the blog and read my original post as well as two additional sets of comments I later posted after seeing the DRA commentary and a comment from Don Pay there.

    As to some of the points raised here, I haven't seen anyone in years go to a Board of Minerals and Environment meeting to protest that the amounts of gold-mine bonds were insufficient.

    Last week, at a hearing on a plan to pipe saltwater from one oil well into the hole of a non-producing oil well, none of the interveners showed up. One sent a letter that was read at her request. No witnesses with any scientific credentials in this matter testified for the interveners; in fact, the interveners didn't have any witnesses.

    What I found most interesting in that saltwater hearing came when the board's chairman, Dick Sweetman of Sioux Falls, stumped a DENR staff member. Sweetman wondered whether taking the water from one well and pumping it back to the same general depth in another well 1,800 feet away might be helping oil flow from one site to another. The staff member acknowledged that wasn't considered. My guess is it probably will be in the future.

    I don't attend every meeting of the Board of Minerals and Environment because I simply can't. There are schedule conflicts. Likewise for the Board of Water and Natural Resources. I probably should cover the Board of Water Management more often. I cover many state boards and commissions. That gives me an opportunity to see how things are handled.

    I know this. At the Legislature's Executive Board meeting, the motion by Rep. Tyler to combine three studies into one wasn't going to get support because it was simply too broad. The interim study committees traditionally meet three or four days total. That's not enough time to study frack-sand mining, in situ uranium mining and gold mining. Earlier in the same meeting a combined study regarding education funding was set aside for the same reason: too broad. Many other study topics were set aside Tuesday, not just the DRA-backed environmental study.

    As to the state uranium regulations being set aside in favor of federal regulations, the Legislature made that decision because DENR didn't have the expertise, and the legislators didn't want to spend the money for more staff, to deal with something the federal regulators ultimately would decide.

    Again, if you want to stop in situ uranium mining, propose a ban for South Dakota and put the question on the statewide ballot for the voters to decide. The ballot was how South Dakota Disposal Systems was blocked from opening its large-scale landfill for out-of-state waste at the Lonetree site in Fall River County. That maneuver took two statewide votes. First the opponents won the voters' approval for a law requiring the Legislature to decide whether such a project should get a state permit. The catch of course was that the decision of the Legislature in turn could be referred to a statewide vote. The Lonetree opponents won both times.

    The 1990 siting-permit law passed by less than 15,000 votes. The Legislature's decision granting the permit was overturned two years later 217,051 to 93,556. I don't recall any similar proposal since then.

  4. Charlie Johnson 2013.04.25

    How about the legislature and the media just do their job?

  5. joeboo 2013.04.25

    I friend of mines brother works for a company that does the situ uranium mining in Wyoming. He explained it to me, I don't think its bad by any means. But the thing he said that worries him is the company doing it. Said they were in bankruptcy and don't have much experience.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.04.25

    Joe, did your brother also explain that pollution, specifically reduction of water quality, is inevitable?

    "The increase in ISL environmental violations in recent years has led many states to relax environmental standards rather than impose stricter regulations against the mining companies.

    "Of the 8 currently operating ISL operations in the United States, only one has not had any reported environmental violations (Alta Mesa, Texas). Most ISL projects have had numerous spills, contaminated underground aquifers, and have failed to reclaim non-operating on site wells" [Earthworks, "In-situ Uranium Leach Mining," downloaded 2013.04.25].

  7. bret clanton 2013.04.25

    DRA, a liberal organization that spends a lot of its time defending conservative principles......

  8. joeboo 2013.04.25

    Sorry it should of said a friend of mines brother. I discussed it with him, and he said there is some concern about pollution but there are steps to help with it. Whether or not that is true, I don't know, I'm not an engineer.

    Its complicated no doubt and I'm not opposed to making tougher restrictions but I'm more concerned with letting a poor company do it. If its a solid company and they are willing to stand behind it, I can live with it. The state needs to make tougher bonding/reclamation laws.

  9. Donald Pay 2013.04.25

    Bob Mercer's submission is interesting and pathetic. With regard to whether DENR had the expertise to evaluate and regulate uranium mines, Mercer presents an excuse, not a reason. When there were questions about adequate regulation by the state during the gold mining years, Governor Mickelson enacted a moratorium on permitting until expertise and regulations were developed. That could have been done with uranium mining as well, rather than simply giving control over to the federal government at the insistence of a fly-by-night corporation. (When it comes to principles of federalism and states rights, Republicans seem to lose their principles very quickly when sleazy outsiders come to drop money on them.)

    There is absolutely no excuse for being so disrespectful of DENR staff that you tell them they are incapable of regulating. THAT'S WHAT THEY GET PAID TO DO. First, DENR can buy expertise, either through training staff, as they did with Tom Durkin during gold mining permitting or by hiring third-party consultants, also which they did with acid rock drainage. Second, if you really feel you can't regulate an entity, the thought should cross your mind that it might be an activity that shouldn't actually be allowed (eg., too big to fail or in this case too dangerously complicated to regulate).

    Now as far as finding the money to regulate properly, these Republican legislators can spend money to send themselves to ALEC conventions where they can drink with the uranium mining corporation's CEOs and many other stupid things, but protecting water and the environment, no, there's just no money, no money for THAT frivolous activity.

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