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South Dakota Weekly Legislative Report: January 29-February 4, 2012

February 5, 2012

from the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club

It was an interesting week in Pierre beginning with HB 1098, a bill that sought to re-instate the State DENR as the primary regulatory authority in monitoring Powertech Uranium’s mining permit by repealing the law the legislature just past in the 2011. There were quite a few twists and turns in the process. Rep. Patricia K. Stricherz, the bill’s primary sponsor started out the testimony on her bill by delivering a blistering excoriation of Powertech Uranium’s legislative history of distortion and disingenuous statements regarding the company, its operations and its brief tarnished history as a mining operation. She was incensed with the company and by implication and innuendo, its lobbyists whom she painted large as dissemblers and liars. It was quite a performance and without a doubt, Chairman Lust and other committee members appeared uncomfortable with her straightforward, unvarnished judgments.

At the end, Rep. Stricherz choose to table her bill saying it did not do enough in terms of protecting the environment and regulating uranium mining and that a better bill needed to be drafted next session. Chairman Lust agreed to table the bill but then to my surprise allowed proponent testimony even though he said, “it would be meaningless”. (That often seems to be the case, anyway.) Rep. Hunhoff tried to untable the bill and keep it alive but it was finally laid to rest and tabled 9-4. I believe in the final analysis, Rep. Stricherz strategy to kill her bill and draft a better one was the right course. Please send an email thanking Ms. Stricherz for her courage and dedication on behalf of the environment.

Following the hearing, I had an excellent substantive discussion with Ms. Rebecca Leas and Ms. Susan Henderson both of whom along with me gave what I believe was compelling testimony regarding the need for local state regulatory authority overseeing uranium mining in the southern Black Hills. Next week I will offer my help to Rep. Stricherz in crafting a uranium mining regulatory bill for next session. It was also decided that a concerted effort to educate the legislators on the topic of uranium in-situ underground mining is a vital and necessary component if we hope to change the minds and attitudes of legislators in the next session. I strongly advocate some type of program on uranium mining open to all legislators during the 2013 session prior to a committee vote on another regulatory bill.

SB 126 would have required TransCanada to file proof of an indemnity bond in the amount of five hundred million dollars was also defeated in committee 4-3. There was a good discussion with three committee members suggesting amendments to lower bond amounts down to $100 million (Nebraska’s amount) to $3 million. All the amendments failed, as did the bill despite what I believe was strong proponent testimony. It was a closer vote than last year’s defeat. Sen. Frerichs should be commended for his attempt, yet again to protect landowners and the state from the possibility of having to pay for the clean-up costs of catastrophic oil spills. TransCanada with huge assets and deep pockets (according to its lobby) is not too big to fail.

Coming up early next week:

  • SB 179 seeks to make available a $30 million energy infrastructure loan fund for the construction of electrical transmission and generator facilities related to renewable energy sources (wind). This is a good bill to support and will be heard by the Senate State Affairs committee on Mon., Feb. 6.
  • HB 1081 and 1082, the so-called Mountain Lion bills will be heard on the same day as HB 1087 below in the same committee. These are two bad bills written to protect two people who shot mountain lions illegally. Its passage would open loopholes that could undermine the management of Mountain Lions in the state.
  • HB 1087 which limits the period of a conservation easement created after July 1, 2012 for a period of no more than thirty years will be decided in the House Ag & Nat. Res. committee on Tues, Feb. 7. This bill restricts the rights of landowners who want to provide for wildlife habitat for a longer period of time, an obvious impingement of personal property rights. This is a bad bill I hope will receive a great deal of strong opposition.
  • HB 1111 an eminent domain bill that protects the rights of landowners who have to negotiate with large entities needing access across their property. This is a good bill to support and will come up in the House Transportation committee on Tues. Feb. 7.
  • HB 1237 proposes to assess agricultural land based on its actual use and not highest possible commercial value (i.e. cropland). This is a good conservation incentive bill. Its passage would provide a real tax incentive break to keep land in grass, slough or wetlands. It was opposed last year by big grain producers and got a bad (and I believe unfair) rap from the state revenue department that insisted any new tax laws must be revenue neutral. It is scheduled for a hearing in the House Taxation Committee on Tues. Feb. 7.
  • HB 1166 seeks state funding to kill prairie dogs. A bad bill—more unnecessary persecution of prairie dogs at taxpayers’ expense.

Remember, legislators and bureaucrats pay attention to their constituents who make an effort to watch and follow them on what they are doing so I continue to urge you to get involved to the extent you feel comfortable. All of these bills are pending in committees so you need to write to
specific committee members that will vote on them first.

To check out bills, access the SD state Legislative Research Council (LRC) homepage, 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.

Submitted by Edward Raventon
Sierra Club lobbyist

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