Guest column: School-to-prison pipeline needs to be rerouted!

School to prison pipeline

Infographic on the school to prison pipeline from Community Coalition.

This writer has written several columns about the School –to-Prison (STP) pipeline, also called the Cradle-to-Jail. It has led to too many minority and poor students being  placed almost directly into detention, too often leading to prison.  The STP has been in our vocabulary for more than a decade yet the first federal hearing on it was conducted by Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., recently.

Among those testifying were representatives of The Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP and ACLU, along with others.  Durbin told the subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee: “For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system.”  With this hearing including the  Departments of Justice and Education a spotlight was finally shown on a situation that is too often viewed as only a local responsibility.

Matthew Cregor of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said: “With suspension a top predictor of dropout, we must confront this practice if we are ever to end the ‘dropout crises’ or the achievement gap.” Racial minorities and children with disabilities too often end up in the pipeline.

During the 2009-2010 school year, Black students had a 1 in 6 chance of suspension; American Indian students a 1 in 13 chance; Latino students 1in 14; white students, 1 in 20 and Asian students 1 in 50.  Those numbers increase if the racial disparity is combined with a disability.  About 1 in 4 black children with disabilities were suspended at least once compared with 1 in 11 white students.   One in 6 Indian children with disabilities end up in the pipeline. This is according to the Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

Racial differences have actually widened since the early 1970s. Suspension is being used more frequently as a disciplinary tool. Even though removing children from school does not improve their behavior, it does increase the likelihood they will drop out and wind up behind bars.

SPLC has leaned that children are far more likely to be arrested at school than they were a generation ago. Zero-tolerance policies set one-size fits all punishments for even non-violent behavior, and students end up in the pipeline. The SPLC has filed lawsuits or civil rights complaints against districts with punitive disciplinary practices that discriminate in their impact.

But can anything be done about it? It is this writers’ belief that something must be done about it! We must look at state policies that lead to these discriminatory practices. Some of those policies include the charge of possession by ingestion, not even dealt with in the signed bill to reform our prisons.

That charge is used to a much greater extent against Native Americans than against whites in our terribly unjust court system. So who gets chosen for a urine test? It is primarily Native Americans, not whites. They have no drugs on them, but have they taken the drug or smoked the pot?  The charges too often lead to these Natives being placed in prison.

Remember, South Dakota is the only state that still has this charge. Four others learned quickly that it really doesn’t work. Why hasn’t this state?

This writer has not seen any Natives graduating from the drug court in Sturgis and few involved in the diversion programs here. The reason is the policies used to select them automatically discriminate in their impact against Natives. In interviewing a Native juvenile involved in the juvenile diversion program here, he was the only native in the group.

We must be able to do better than this. Let us please end the STP and keep our youth out of prison, instead of having a pipeline that takes them there.

–Hazel Bonner is a freelance writer who writes from her home and a member of the SD Peace & Justice Center. She may be reached electronically at; by snail mail at PO Box 3712, Rapid City, SD 57709-3712; or by phone at 605.342.6834 ext. 120.

Posted in Criminal Justice, Essays | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Selling History at Wounded Knee (or, the Ironies of History, Pt. II)

Wounded Knee 1973

AIM blockade at Wounded Knee, 1973.

[As always when writing about Native affairs, I welcome comment and correction from my Native readers. You know your own business and your own history better than I do.]

Noted horror and science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft once said, “From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.” Such is the sad case at Wounded Knee in recent days. From the Native Sun News Network:

Wounded Knee, the site of one of the most horrific and tragic events in all of American history, is being offered up for sale by its owner.

The family of James A. Czywczynski, owners of two 40 acre sites of land where the slaughter of approximately 300 Lakota men, women, and children took place on Dec 29, 1890 has agreed to sell the land for $3.9 million. “It is time for our family to sell the land. We would really like to see the land returned to the Lakota people and that is why I am giving them an opportunity to purchase the land before I open it up to others for sale,” said Czywczynski. “I could offer it up for public auction like the Runnels did with Pe’ Sla, but I would prefer that the Lakota people be the ones to purchase it,” he added.

How nice that Czywczynski wants to sell back the site of one of the worst mass killings in American history returned to the people whose blood was spilled there. And he’s only charging them between 100-200 times market value for it:

Aside from its historical significance, the land is mostly grassland, and that typically sells for far less than $48,750 an acre in Shannon County. That’s how much the tribe would pay per acre if officials agreed to Czywczynski’s price.

Susie Hayes is the Fall River County director of equalization, and her county performs the administrative work for Shannon County. While there aren’t many land sales in Shannon County, Hayes said that recently “we just had a big land sale over there in the southwest corner of the county.”

A ranch consisting of 3,238 acres of grassland and 500 acres of cropland went for $2.8 million. “That seems to be a fairly good sale, within the ballpark,” she said.

Hayes uses an eight-year Olympic average of land values in South Dakota where the high and low numbers are thrown out. It is prepared by the state Department of Revenue and it helps her estimate land worth. In Shannon County this year, according to the state, “top dollar for cropland is $466 an acre. Top dollar for grassland is $257 an acre,” she said.

How do you justify selling land that’s realistically worth $260 per acre for almost 200 times that? Well, as it turns out, Czywczynski owned the land and buildings that were occupied by the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1973 in their 73-day-long standoff with federal marshals. And he’s including property damages in his price tag for the site of two of the most important events in Lakota and Native American history:

“I was never repaid for the property losses I had as a result of what happened there in 1973,” he said. “The price that I have placed on the land is an attempt for me to reclaim my losses, and an attempt to get fair market value for the land,” he added.

How can you say that? How can a person make a statement like that and not have a molten chunk of irony plummet from the sky and smite them where they stand?!

You were never repaid for your property losses?

Wounded Knee 1890

Burying 300 slain Lakota at Wounded Knee, 1890.

Were the Lakota ever repaid for their property losses when the U.S. government stole the Black Hills from them? Oh sure, there was that court case in 1980, United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, that awarded the Lakota $106 million in damages. But that’s a paltry offer when you consider that Homestake Gold Mine alone removed a full 40 million ounces of gold in its lifetime, a paltry offer the Lakota rightfully declined.

Were they repaid for the three hundred Hunkpapa and Minneconjou who were murdered at Wounded Knee on that wintery day in 1890?

For the systematic genocide of first their people in the Indian Wars of the 19th century and later in policies of forced sterilization and boarding schools, homestead allotments and withering poverty?

And you ask them to shell out $4 million to buy back the land they were robbed of in the first place, the land they baptized with their blood and their tears?

“I could sell the property to someone from outside the tribe but I really do not want to do that,” said Czywczynski. “This is a real chance for the tribe to take advantage of an opportunity to bring more money and people to the reservation. It could be done in a respectful way for those who passed there,” he added.

Because Mr. Czywczynski knows that there is no world in which the Lakota would ever want to have that land developed by somebody else. They’re not even sure they want to build a memorial museum on that land, even though it might serve as a tourism boon, let alone letting some white landowner do so. And Mr. Czywczynski is using that leverage to gouge them for almost 200 times the land’s market value.

Last year, after the historic purchase of Pe’Sla in the Black Hills – the purchase of land that, according to treaty law and to any sense of justice, still belongs to the Lakota people – I wrote:

The Lakota didn’t traditionally have a concept of private land ownership. But they certainly have a sense of the sacredness of land. That’s why they’ve been at the forefront of campaigns to protect the Black Hill’s natural resources and precious environment for decades. The question is, then: is sacred land worth more than economic development? Was buying Pe’Sla a mistake?

That’s where irony reenters the picture, as it so often does in the twisting story of Lakota-Anglo relations. The Dawes Allotment Act of 1887, which handed out individual parcels of land to tribes culturally accustomed to communal possession of land, allowed sale of prime reservation real estate to whites, and left the Lakota structurally impoverished on some of the most barren farmland in the region.

I see this as the tragedy of the whole affair: the Lakota have been placed in a position where they must choose between spending money on community uplift (because White people did keep their promises) and protecting sacred land from commercial development (because White people didn’t keep their promises).

I don’t know that I can say it any better now. It would be funny if it weren’t so infuriating.

Posted in News, Tribal Sovereignty & Native Issues | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A tough day for uranium opponents

Yesterday was a tough day for those of us who want to keep South Dakota’s water safe for future generations. At 10:00 am, the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee held a hearing for Senate Bills 148, 149, and 150 to bolster state oversight of uranium mining (read more in our earlier post on the three bills). After hearing from ranchers, public health experts,  activists, lobbyists, and South Dakota citizens who will have to deal with the fallout from Powertech’s proposed Dewey-Burdock Project in Fall River County, the Committee promptly voted to defer all three bills, effectively killing them.

Uranium mining

3 bills to regulate uranium mining in SD were shot down yesterday in committee.

Sabrina King at Dakota Rural Action was there and reports:

In voting down SB 148, excuses about lack of funding and expanding government were made. If our water matters, we should allocate the funding. People, South Dakotas citizens, are asking for this. We are asking for the oversight. It is not up to the legislature to tell us they don’t want to allocate the funds. An oft-repeated statement was also repeated by Sen. Krebs, R-Renner, that the state has oversight of the water issues in the permitting process, and that we have the opportunity to speak to against these permits in March. But permits are not the same as oversight. Permits are not the same as on-going monitoring. And permits do not give South Dakota the protection it needs.  [emphasis original]

It also became clear as the bills moved forward that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources does not have the best interest of South Dakotans at heart. Secretary Steve Pirner opposed every single bill… [and] when the DENR presented early in this session to both the House and Senate Ag. and Natural Resources Committees, the DENR was presented as a permit-granting, economic machine. The DENR needs to hear that we, the citizens, don’t appreciate their lack of interest in protecting our resources.

The future (and even present-day) water supply and water quality of local South Dakotans is what economists refer to as an “externality.” That is, according to Wikipedia: “a cost or benefit that is not transmitted through prices in that it is incurred by a party who was not involved as either a buyer or seller of the goods or services causing the cost or benefit.” An example of a positive externality is the carbon captured by the trees in an orchard. The orchard provides the farmer with an immediate economic benefit: apples, which he can sell for a profit. But those trees also provide the rest of society with a sink (however small) for carbon in the atmosphere, ameliorating the effects of global climate change. The farmer pays to grow the trees, but everybody benefits from the positive externality. In this case, it’s in the farmer’s self-interest to plant more trees, increasing both his yield and his carbon capture.

In the same way, when Powertech mines uranium, it uses up water from the Madison and Inyan Kara aquifers that, even at their deepest and dirtiest, could someday serve as drinking water sources for a swiftly warming South Dakota. More to the point, groundwater movement, and its importance in maintaining ecosystems (well-documented in Robert Glennon’s fascinating, frustrating 2002 book Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping & the Fate of America’s Fresh Water) especially during a period of intense drought, is difficult to predict. Groundwater models can change drastically depending on the assumptions about water usage and flow that underlie them. So when hydro-geologist Raymond Johnson said last night in Hot Springs that “he had conducted an independent water analysis on groundwater in the proposed mining area and said he ‘found no evidence of cross contamination of the aquifers,'” there’s the very real chance that, as at Christensen Ranch in Wyoming, today’s science (and the assumptions embedded therein) may have unforeseen consequences.

Hot Springs uranium meeting

A uranium “information” (read: propaganda) meeting in Hot Springs 2/7.

Those unforeseen (or perhaps foreseen but simply discounted) consequences are the negative externalities in this case: lower water tables during times of drought; the possibility for heavy metal contamination in possible drinking water sources; pollution of, and concentration of preexisting pollutants in, potential drinking water sources; ecosystem disruption; and so on. But whereas in the farmer’s case his interest in increased production and the public’s interest in more carbon-capturing foliage intersect, here private and public interests diverge sharply. It’s in Powertech’s interests to suck the Southern Hills dry, especially since they are able to externalize the costs of that operation – all the things I just mentioned – onto the local population, long after they have packed up their equipment and headed back to Canada with the profits from our resources.

So what regulations like Senate Bills 148, 149, and 150 do is they build in the costs of those externalities: they increase continuous oversight at the state and local levels (since our federal regulators are stretched dangerously thin as it is); they require that groundwater be returned to pre-mining levels and purity; they require that accidents be reported immediately. Yes, that all imposes costs on the mining company. But there are real costs that, under a deregulated market regime, the mining company doesn’t have to bear but that the rest of us do. Regulations like those in the above bills make sure that the company’s incentive isn’t just to not care at all and stick the rest of us with the bill for decades afterward.

Evidently, South Dakota lawmakers care more about foreign uranium companies than they do about their own citizens.

So it should be unsurprising to learn that, in addition to this legislative blow in Pierre, opponents of Powertech were dealt a propaganda blow in Hot Springs last night:

Powertech’s proposed uranium mining project was generally seen as positive at a meeting Thursday night hosted by the Southern Hills Economic Development Corp.

“If you look at a map, taking in uranium, oil, gas and coal production, energy is all around us,” Benjamin Snow, president of the Rapid City Economic Development Corporation, said. “We support this project as being good for the entire region, which is interconnected.”

Among those speaking about the project, which would extract uranium through an in situ water-injection process, were Mark Hollenbeck, project manager for Powertech, Raymond Johnson, a hydro-geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and Mike Cepak with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“We set this up as an educational opportunity,” said Cindy Turner, SHEDC director from Edgemont. “Hopefully this was a source of information, leading people to more informed decision making.”

With its typically fair and balanced reporting, the Rapid City Journal declined to solicit comments for their coverage from anyone but the pro-Powertech speakers at the event. Nor did they mention that despite the stated intent to help people “make more informed decisions,” the forum organizers declined to schedule a Q&A session. They also declined to mention that, despite the speakers pitching Powertech as a boon, not everyone who showed up was equally enthused:

Uranium protester in Hot Springs 2/7

Uranium protester in Hot Springs 2/7

Uranium protester in Hot Springs 2/7

Naturally, the Rapid City Journal made no mention of those folks, the ones who weren’t invited to speak by the Southern Hills Economic “Development” Council, the ones who are trying to make sure that Powertech doesn’t externalize its costs onto those of us who will have to live with them for years to come. But their very presence, unheralded as it may have been by the media establishment, was a victory of solidarity for a campaign that has most definitely taken some knocks in the past few days.

Posted in News, SD Legislature 2013, Uranium Mining | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

SD getting warmer – it’s a good thing! Or not…

Longer growing seasons! Warmer winters! What could be wrong with global climate change? That’s the overall impression one gets of a recent headline in the Argus Leader, “Hint for state’s climate future: think Kansas“:

South Dakota in 2050 will have longer growing seasons, milder winters and more extreme weather events if national weather experts are correct in analyzing the effects of greenhouse gases on climate warming.

A draft report released earlier this month by the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee projects that at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the average temperature in South Dakota will rise an additional 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050.

That comes as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the contiguous United States.

What will warming bring to the state? Growing seasons will stretch longer. There will be fewer subzero-degree days in the winter and snow won’t stick around as long. Storms will be more extreme, dumping significant amounts of snow and rain but unleashing precipitation less often.

That’s one, rather rosy way to talk about global climate change. No wonder Kristi Noem wants to drive the Keystone XL Pipeline right through South Dakota – if all that tar sands oil is only going to speed up the process of making our state’s climate balmier, the faster the better, right?

Here is another way to talk about it, courtesy of Bill McKibben’s hugely popular essay “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in Rolling Stone last August:

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this [last] summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe…

Meanwhile the tide of numbers continues. The week after the Rio conference limped to its conclusion, Arctic sea ice hit the lowest level ever recorded for that date. Last month [July 2012], on a single weekend, Tropical Storm Debby dumped more than 20 inches of rain on Florida – the earliest the season’s fourth-named cyclone has ever arrived. At the same time, the largest fire in New Mexico history burned on, and the most destructive fire in Colorado’s annals claimed 346 homes in Colorado Springs – breaking a record set the week before in Fort Collins. This month, scientists issued a new study concluding that global warming has dramatically increased the likelihood of severe heat and drought – days after a heat wave across the Plains and Midwest broke records that had stood since the Dust Bowl, threatening this year’s harvest. You want a big number? In the course of this month [August 2012], a quadrillion kernels of corn need to pollinate across the grain belt, something they can’t do if temperatures remain off the charts. Just like us, our crops are adapted to the Holocene, the 11,000-year period of climatic stability we’re now leaving… in the dust.

Pretty big difference, huh? Suddenly approving a pipeline that would liberate nearly a million barrels of dirty, dirty oil into the international market doesn’t seem like such a great idea.

Hallen's Spheres

Hallen’s Spheres, a model of the nexus between politics and journalism.

Note the end of the first paragraph of the Argus Leader’s story though: “if national weather experts are correct in analyzing the effects of greenhouse gases on climate warming.” This is a typical journalistic way of indicating that an issue is up for debate. To use the terminology of a useful model developed by journalist Daniel Hallen to talk about the media and Vietnam, it situates the claim in question in the sphere of contention.

This is the sphere of mainstream political debates, where the supremacy of the military-industrial complex (which occupies the unspoken, unexamined sphere of consensus) or the possibility of a non-capitalist mode of production (which occupies the ignored and/or ridiculed sphere of deviance) are never brought up. And as David Roberts at Grist writes:

What’s key to understand about this model is that what ends up in the various spheres has very little to do with empirical or logical merit. These are not truth categories, they are categories of practice, shaped by social forces. In other words, they are deeply, intrinsically political, though “objective” reporters seem almost incapable of recognizing that they are engaging in political choices.

After the last year, which was one of the hottest on record and saw a litany of extreme weather events culminating in Superstorm Sandy, global climate change itself seems to have finally established itself in the sphere of consensus. Now it’s not whether change is occurring, but whether it’s man-made. Back to the Argus Leader:

State Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones calls himself a Turner County dirt farmer who isn’t smart enough to know if climate warming is a natural occurrence or a man-made reality. But he doesn’t doubt that adapting to whatever’s causing warmer climate is imperative to the state’s $21.4 billion agriculture industry.

You may not be “smart enough” to be a climate scientist, Walt. But there are lots of people who are. And guess what?

Climate change consensus

Man-made climate change occupies the sphere of consensus for scientists at least. But for the economic establishment that depends on climate science denial for its continued existence, the political establishment that depends on the economic establishment for its continued existence, and the media establishment that depends on both, it’s more convenient to manufacture controversy. But hey, at least South Dakota will have warmer winters, right?

Posted in Environmental Justice, News | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Guest post: Expand Medicaid, Support HB1205

[Note: for more info on the proposed Medicaid expansion, see our earlier post on this issue.]

There is an article in today’s Argus Leader about the shortfall in pay to nursing homes by the State of SD for Medicaid patients. Here are some of my thoughts on the issue.

South Dakota has the opportunity to take the Medicaid option in the Affordable Healthcare Act, which would put the majority of the cost of Medicaid on the Federal Government for the next three years, giving states the opportunity to figure out how to share more of the burden three years from now. But our Governor doesn’t want to take that option because he and some of his party have no confidence in our country to get out of the fiscal mess that we find ourselves in. Notice that he and they are not telling the Federal government that they can’t continue to use our National Guard troops to fight their unnecessary wars.

Medicaid Expansion

SD lawmakers could cover more than 40,000 uninsured South Dakotans at minimal cost to the state by accepting the Medicaid expansion

As the article points out the shortfall in payments to the nursing homes by medicaid is picked up by those who are private payers to the nursing homes. The same can be said of the folks who are on Medicaid for their healthcare. If they cannot pay, the cost is passed on to anyone else seeking healthcare which of course raises the cost of healthcare for all of us. And the cost is generally a lot higher because rather than seeing the doctor during regular hours, they end up going to the emergency room which is infinitely more expensive.

On Monday the House State Affairs Committee will hold hearings on HB1244, the governor’s bill to prohibit the State of South Dakota from taking the Medicaid option offered in the Affordable Healthcare Act.  The hearing and vote are this Monday (2/4) at 7:45. Urge the Representatives on the committee to oppose HB1244.

Then there is a bill that will come up later in the week or perhaps the following week, HB1205, which does just the opposite. It mandates that South Dakota take advantage of the Medicaid option in the Affordable Healthcare Act. If you are interested in this issue, I would ask that you contact your State legislators and ask for their opposition to HB1244 and their support of HB1205.

–Lanny Stricherz lives in Sioux Falls and is a longtime friend of the SD Peace & Justice Center

Posted in Economic Justice, Essays, SD Legislature 2013 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Virginia nixes uranium mine – now for SD!

A longtime struggle to halt the exploitation of Virginia’s environment won a significant victory today, one that should give heart to South Dakotans waging their own anti-uranium campaigns:

With his legislation to advance uranium mining in Virginia seemingly shelved for the year, Sen. John Watkins searched for a way forward Thursday, urging Gov. Bob McDonnell to plow ahead on the development of mining regulations…

The Powhatan County Republican’s bill (SB1353) would have begun the process of developing a state regulatory framework to tap a rich deposit of the radioactive ore in Pittsylvania County and run a mining operation there.

VA uranium protester

Uranium opponents in VA won a significant victory today

His proposal was the embodiment of a multiyear effort by Virginia Uranium Inc., which controls land with an estimated 119-million-pound deposit of ore, and its lobbyists to convince legislators that the resource used as fuel in nuclear power plants can be safely harvested…

Virginia Uranium officials have long insisted that they will dispose of tailings, created when ore is separated from rock, in below-grade containment units to prevent their escape.

And they offer the appeal of hundreds of jobs, as well as tax revenue, for an area of the state hard hit by unemployment.

But the people of Virginia aren’t convinced. (Would that South Dakotans – including some of our national-level politicians – weren’t so swayed by the siren song of “economic development”…) And just so you know, the campaign against Virginia Uranium isn’t simply anti-growth, anti-business rabble-rousing by a bunch of tree-hugging environmentalists. It’s brought landowners, agriculturalists, local businesspeople, and yes, environmentalists alike to the table:

Opponents fear a breach of containment cells holding the waste would contaminate public drinking water supplies for localities as far away as Virginia Beach, nearly 200 miles from the proposed mine. The tourist city, Virginia’s largest, had taken a public stand against mining.

Environmentalists were joined in their opposition by local grass-root organizers, Virginia’s largest farm lobby, the state’s medical society, municipal and church groups, the NAACP and others…

Uranium mining has been done almost exclusively in the arid West and critics said Virginia’s exposure to tropical storms and torrential rains made it a bad choice to mine the ore.

They have said they’re primarily concerned about the milling — the separation of ore from rock. It creates vast amounts of waste that must be stored for generations.

That’s a pretty broad coalition. And it’s precisely a strong coalition like this that allows a movement for change to succeed. For as renowned political scientist and civil resistance theorist Erica Chenoweth points out, the single most important factor to a movement’s success is participation, folding as many people from as many different walks of life into the struggle. That’s one thing South Dakota’s own struggle against Powertech Uranium has going for it – quite apart from usual suspects like the SDPJC and Defenders of the Black Hills, it has broad-based support among the residents of Fall River and Custer Counties, where the proposed Dewey-Burdock Project would operate, many of them far from career activists themselves.

Virginia uranium protest

Will SD follow in Virginia’s footsteps?

Virginia Uranium officials are circumspect in the wake of this blow to their business plans:

“We have gone to great lengths over the last several years to educate elected leaders and the public they serve about the strict regulations, science and technology used in modern uranium mining,” said Virginia Uranium project manager Patrick Wales. “Our efforts to address the concerns with facts and science have been sincere.”

The same sort of sincerity will be on display next Thursday in Hot Springs, as the sirens of economic development take to the stage in Hill City to sing the praises of uranium mining, in an “informational meeting” at 6:30 pm at the Mueller Center Theater, 801 S. Sixth Ave. The nature of the event, which will feature state and Powertech officials at the mic and no chance for the public to get them to actually address their concerns (there will be no Q&A afterward), is far more informative than the contents of the meeting could ever be.

That’s right: even as the people of Virgina put the kibosh on dangerous uranium mining, Powertech is working hard to prevent the same thing from happening in South Dakota. If you can make it to the Mueller Center next Thursday night, please attend this meeting, and be sure to wear your best yellow “No Uranium Mining” ribbons and t-shirts for the occasion. (You can pick up ribbons, signs, and other supplies at the Kip and Ginger Heinzen residence, 309 S. 6th St, before the meeting – contact us at for more info.) We may not be able to ask questions. But there are other ways to let Powertech and their boosters know that we’ve got the participation to win this thing.

Posted in News, Uranium Mining | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Kristi Noem: Dilbit, baby, Dilbit!

Kristi Noem’s most recent column of the week displays the typical good policy sense and concern for the health of our nation and our planet that South Dakota has come to expect from its lone U.S. Representative:

After almost four and a half years of applications, environmental studies and hearings, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is still in limbo and waiting for approval. In the face of rising energy costs and continued reliance on foreign oil supplies, it is time for President Obama to finally approve this project.

Wait… what?

The American people deserve a reliable energy supply that comes from American sources. That means more than just oil, it also means renewable sources such as hydropower and wind. I have and will continue to support an all-of-the-above American energy policy. In South Dakota, we continue to lead by example by taking advantage of our vast wind energy resources and by developing new ethanol technologies.

Kristi Noem on KXL

Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) discusses the Keystone XL Pipeline with Neil Cavuto on FOX News last February.

The problem is that the dirty tar sands oil (known as diluted bitumen or “Dilbit”) that KXL would pump comes not from the U.S. but from Alberta. Which is in Canada, in case you missed it in your high school geography class. And in all likelihood that oil would be exported to China.

You know what a genuinely American energy supply looks like? Wind energy. South Dakota is the fifth-windiest state in the U.S., and the prime SD real estate for wind development is to be found on our Indian Reservations – places that could use an injection of economic development. And what better way than by leading the way forward to develop energy resources that tread lightly on the earth the Lakota people hold so sacred? These are the kinds of energy sources the government should be incentivizing. An “all-of-the-above energy policy” is a thin disguise for capitulation to America’s crippling oil addiction and the dealers whose profits depend on it.

But wait! There are jobs to be had:

The Keystone XL pipeline will ultimately decrease our dependence on unstable sources of energy from the Middle East and could create up to 20,000 new American jobs.

…actually, divide that by about 1,000 and you’re in the ballpark, at least as far as permanent jobs are concerned. So says the State Department at any rate. Even talking about temporary construction jobs, Cornell Global Labor Institute estimates a job creation total of between 2,500 to 4,650 jobs over a two-year period.

There’s at least one figure that Ms. Noem gets right:

This pipeline, once completed, will carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil a day from western Canada to refineries in Texas. The pipeline is shovel ready: easements have been acquired from over 97 percent of landowners in South Dakota and all seven pump station sites have been purchased.

Alberta Tar Sands

The Alberta Tar Sands in all their natural glory.

That’s right: KXL will carry the better part of a million gallons of the dirtiest oil on the planet, tar sands Dilbit. Dilbit extraction is fully three times as carbon intensive as traditional oil, not to speak of the climatic impact of burning millions upon millions of barrels of additional carbon-rich fossil fuels.

You want to talk about energy security? Let’s talk about national security. Like, securing our borders from literally being overrun by rising sea levels:

At Monday’s Climate Desk Live briefing in Washington, D.C., [Ohio State glaciologist Jason] Box… explained that we’ve already pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide 40 percent beyond Eemian [a previous warm period in Earth’s history] levels. What’s more, levels of atmospheric methane are a dramatic 240 percent higher—both with no signs of stopping. “There is no analogue for that in the ice record,” said Box.

And that’s not all. The present mass scale human burning of trees and vegetation for clearing land and building fires, plus our pumping of aerosols into the atmosphere from human pollution, weren’t happening during the Eemian. These human activities are darkening Greenland’s icy surface, and weakening its ability to bounce incoming sunlight back away from the planet. Instead, more light is absorbed, leading to more melting, in a classic feedback process that is hard to slow down…

Box also provided a large-scale perspective on how much sea level rise humanity has already probably set in motion from the burning of fossil fuels. The answer is staggering: 69 feet, including water from both Greenland and Antarctica, as well as other glaciers based on land from around the world.

In too many ways, it may already be too late to turn back the climate clock. But if our goal is to avoid straight-up environmental catastrophe, then approving KXL is NOT going to get us there. A couple dozen permanent jobs – hell, even a couple thousand temporary jobs – just ain’t worth it. And it certainly won’t make us any more “secure,” energy-wise or otherwise.

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