I’m off to India for three months to direct a drinking water project; however leaving somehow seems inappropriate when there are so many threats to the water in my own community.
Three recent Forum articles in the Rapid City Journal, by Mark Hollenbeck, project director for a foreign mining company; his friend Mr. Nabholz, self-styled hydrology expert; and Mr. Ganje, local counsel for mining companies, were a study in disinformation, and thus all exacerbated this threat.
As Upton Sinclair noted, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. Working on environmental projects all over the planet, mostly dealing with water, I’m struck by a sense of poetic justice with what is happening here. For two centuries developed nations have raped third world countries of their resources and left massive environmental destruction in their wake. Now, because of our lax laws, we have foreign companies coming here to take our hard rock minerals, almost always leaving a toxic mess when they depart, and leaving us with hundreds of millions in cleanup costs.
Let’s review a few facts about this situation in general and the proposed in-situ uranium mining operation at Edgemont specifically.
The 1872 Mining Law was passed to promote the development of publicly-owned lands in the Western United States. Now it’s simply a law that rips off taxpayers. Unlike other mining industries that extract coal, oil or natural gas, hard rock mining companies (usually foreign) take valuable minerals including gold, silver, and uranium from our country without any royalty payments to American taxpayers. Trying to change that law for decades has been frustrated by lobbyists for those same companies pimping in Washington. In Edgemont we have a foreign company that wants to take the uranium, process it in Canada, and ship it to China, just as the foreign company operating across the border in Crawford, Nebraska does.
Why here in South Dakota? Because our legislature is so easy! For example, our state laws protect legal water rights and wells but not artesian head, water which area ranchers depend on for winter watering and which will likely be lost. The law requires an in-situ mining company to return our aquifer to pre-mining use, not pre-mining condition. Powertech always emphasizes the water in the Inyan Kara is non-potable. Thus they can leave it non-potable, even if it is exponentially more polluted with selenium, radium and uranium, which would then create a “hot spot” that would migrate to the potable water in Inyan Kara wells a short distance from the mining area.
Legislators in Colorado stood strong against Powertech who sued the state for the right of this foreign company to pollute their state. Colorado won on the “pre-mining condition” issue and Powertech shut down their operation in the state. By comparison, our legislature, at the behest of the Powertech lobbyists in 2011, passed SB158 which halted oversight of in-situ uranium mining by our state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. We absolutely need DENR oversight reinstated.
–Jim Petersen is a longtime environmental activist from Rapid City and serves on the Executive Board of the SD Peace & Justice Center