While its three paid lobbyists take Powertech’s case to the SD legislature, the uranium company has decided it needs to woo the public as well, something they haven’t been doing very well if the record number of interventions on their water permit is anything to go by. Accordingly, the Southern Hills Economic Development Corp. will be holding a meeting in Hot Springs next Thursday (2/7) to extol the virtues of in-situ leach (ISL) uranium mining:
[T]he meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Mueller Center Theater, 801 S. Sixth Ave. in Hot Springs.
“We believe it is important that the public understand this project in the context of the state and federal rules and regulations governing such mining as well as understanding the economic impact a project such as this would have on Fall River County,” [Cindy] Turner [director of the corporation] said.
Raymond H. Johnson, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and Mike Cepak, engineering manager for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Minerals and Mining Program, will speak. So will Mark Hollenbeck, an Edgemont area rancher and Powertech official, and Benjamin Snow, president of the Greater Rapid City Area Economic Development Corporation. Snow will discuss the regional economic development impact of the energy industry.
The public is invited and encouraged to attend. Turner said the corporation is organizing the meeting to provide more information on the Powertech proposal and to clarify what she considers to be misinformation. The meeting is informational only and will not include a question-and-answer session, Turner said.
So, an “informational meeting” at which the public who will be affected by Powertech’s mine (and any environmental damage it might cause) are not allowed to ask questions? The nature of the event is perhaps more informative than the content could ever be.
I imagine Powertech’s major environmental defense will be that it will only be injecting used water back into the Inyan Kara Aquifer, where groundwater is non-potable as it is. This has lamentably become standard practice in the mining industry. The Environmental Protection Agency grants aquifer exemptions, allowing companies to pollute them on the condition that the aquifers in question “are too remote, too dirty, or too deep to supply affordable drinking water.” And as Powertech lobbyist Mark Hollenbeck likes to point out, the water in the Inyan Kara is unsuitable for drinking as it is, so what difference will it make if Powertech leaves it unsuitable?
Mexico City plans to draw drinking water from a mile-deep aquifer, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The Mexican effort challenges a key tenet of U.S. clean water policy: that water far underground can be intentionally polluted because it will never be used.
U.S. environmental regulators have long assumed that reservoirs located thousands of feet underground will be too expensive to tap. So even as population increases, temperatures rise, and traditional water supplies dry up, American scientists and policy-makers often exempt these deep aquifers from clean water protections and allow energy and mining companies to inject pollutants directly into them…
But Mexico City’s plans to tap its newly discovered aquifer suggest that America is poisoning wells it might need in the future.
Indeed, by the standard often applied in the U.S., American regulators could have allowed companies to pump pollutants into the aquifer beneath Mexico City…
Scientists point to what’s happening in Mexico City as a harbinger of a world in which people will pay more and dig deeper to tap reserves of the one natural resource human beings simply cannot survive without.
“Around the world people are increasingly doing things that 50 years ago nobody would have said they’d do,” said Mike Wireman, a hydrogeologist with the EPA who also works with the World Bank on global water supply issues.
The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor confirms what has been the case for months now: only a tiny corner of northeast South Dakota is suffering from anything less than “Severe Drought,” as is most of the Midwest. There will soon be a scramble – in many parts of the country there already is a scramble – to find new sources of water, and new technologies to make previously undrinkable water drinkable after all.
So we might well be asking right here in South Dakota: what aquifers should we be protecting, not just on account of the unpredictability of subterranean water movement, but also on account of their potential to provide us with precious water in the not-so-distant future?
Unfortunately not a question you’ll be allowed to ask at next Thursday’s meeting.