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South Dakota Legislative Weekly Report: January 15-21, 2012

January 22, 2012

from the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club

The legislature was in session only two days this week due to the holiday and former governor Bill Janklow’s funeral. Nonetheless, some significant actions took place both in and out of the session.

I got a quick look at Dakota Rural Action‘s (DRA) new eminent domain bill. It has many elements that protect the rights of landowners to negotiate a fair value for taken property and forces the condemner to a higher standard of integrity regarding the disclosure of certain aspects of a project’s planning, design and implementation. The bill provides more time for consideration and a more open process. This should be a positive for landowners and land safeguards. While this bill will cover all projects involved in the eminent domain condemnation process, it is specifically directed at keeping TransCanada from playing the Godzilla Tar Monster and rolling over everyone in its path with impunity. The proposed bill is presently being passed around to legislators and six have tentatively signed on as bill co-sponsors which bodes well for initial review and eventual passage out of committee. I will have all the specifics out as soon as the bill is formally introduced.

I spoke with Sen. Jason Frerichs who is working on an ambitious Keystone XL Pipeline indemnity bonding bill of $500 million. We could not get a $30 million indemnity bill out of committee last session. I will be working with Sen. Frerichs next week on his draft proposal, which I hope will have some of the elements featured in Nebraska’s successful indemnity bill. Ken Winston, Sierra Club lobbyist for Nebraska, said he waged a long campaign to gather grassroots support. Kudos to Ken as well as Nebraska’s governor and legislature for slowing down the TransCanada pipeline juggernaut long enough to protect the Ogallala Aquifer. I believe their decisive action to demand better safeguards and an alternate route around the Sandhills was instrumental in drawing more national public attention to this ecologically devastating project. The U.S. State Department‘s and President Obama‘s decision this week to halt the Keystone XL pipeline indefinitely from entering the U.S. was a serious blow to some congressional Republicans’ concerted effort to force this issue. It is presently my understanding that Keystone XL must now begin a new permitting process that could take as long as two years to complete and review. This delay will buy more time to develop alternative energy resources and may well signal the beginning of a real Green Energy paradigm shift away from our society’s (and the petroleum industry’s) insistence of relying on and promoting increasingly dirtier fossil fuels extracted from the earth at ever greater ecological costs.

The President’s rejection of Keystone XL shows that politicians still pay attention to their constituents who make an effort to watch and follow what they are doing, so I continue to urge you to get involved to the extent you feel comfortable.

To check out bills, access the SD state Legislative Research Council (LRC) homepage http://legis.state.sd.us/, then click on “Current Legislative Session” and then “Bills”. The easiest way to send an email to a legislator is to go to the LRC homepage, click on “Current Legislators” then click on the legislator you want to contact. Write a brief message in the box and then click Send. You will also find a phone number and mailing address in their contact information if you want to make your message more personal, which tends to make for a longer lasting impression. Whatever method you choose, try to make your message brief, concise and to the point as well as polite and respectful. Your input does make a difference.

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Game Fish & Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk gave an assessment to the Senate Ag & Natural Resources committee last Thursday regarding the current status of State Park, Recreation and Wildlife issues. I know this information will be of interest to many of you so I have bulleted his points as follows:

  • After 14 years of planning and development, Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City was finally completed. Both Rapid City and the Sioux Falls Campus’ conduct classes that cover a wide range of topics and all types of outdoor recreation activities. Outdoor Campus West was financed with money from license sales, excise tax on outdoor equipment and a $1.2 million donation from the Parks and Wildlife Foundation. No general funds were used.
  • Roadside pheasant populations were down 40% probably due to the harsh winter and wet spring last year.
  • 90% of all big game licenses are now sold through the Internet and 35% of small game licenses.
  • Camping and park visitations were down 10% from last year due to flooding while park revenues were down 2%.
  • 42 state park areas were affected by flooding last spring and summer. This included 37 areas along the Missouri River. Repair of damaged park facilities will cost $9 million and will have to be accomplished over the next few years as money becomes available.
  • There was an exceptionally large flight of Mountain Pine Beetles last summer into Custer State Park. 140,000 trees in the park have already been identified as infected and will have to be removed this year by cutting and chunking trees to kill the grubs before they are able to mature and fly.
  • In December, 305 acres were purchased for the Blood Run archeological state park site southeast of Sioux Falls. A master development park plan has already been completed. The land is currently being held by the Parks and Wildlife Foundation and Conservation Fund until all the funding and private donations have been secured.

Edward Raventon

Sierra Club Lobbyist, South Dakota Chapter

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