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South Dakota Legislative Wrap-up Report: February 12–February 18, 2012

February 18, 2012

From the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club

All the bills that we have been following closely are now part of the history of the 87th SD State Legislative Session. Regrettably, I have to measure success in terms of what didn’t happen as opposed to what could have happened legislatively speaking. All the bad legislation from a conservation standpoint was killed including the Mountain Lion bills (House Bills 1081 and 1082), a thirty-year time restriction on new conservation easements (HB 1087), an increased tax burden on present conservation easements (HB 1237), a redundant law (one is bad enough) promoting “fracking” (HB 1231), defeat of an enhanced small-scale mechanized gold mining license law (HB 1262), and, last but not least, state funding to kill prairie dogs (HB 1166).

On the minus side, we couldn’t get a pipeline indemnity bond passed ( Senate Bill 126… but we came closer than last year); we still can’t get a break to shift some of the tax burden off of grasslands to high value cropland, and we couldn’t get a better eminent domain law passed to help protect landowner rights (HB 1111).

My final analysis: The conservation lobby/community held off all the old threats but was unable to move any progressive momentum in the area of enhanced environmental oversight, ethics or regulation. While it may sound odd, on balance we did well this session. The big threats are still looming: lack of state regulation/oversight on hydraulic injection in situ uranium mining and minimum protection (i.e., the word of TransCanada only) that they have the means and the will to mitigate all possible oil spills. While their lobbyist contended that TransCanada has assets in the range of $80 billion (who knows if that’s true?) they are not too big too fail. In that regard if I could have one wish for the next session that applies to every lobbyist and legislator, it would be that every purportedly factual statement or statistic uttered in hearings or on the floor would by law have to be cited both by source and institution for the public record.

The last item I want to discuss is energy, which we are all so dependent upon and yet tend to take for granted believing that it is our due that it be conveniently there when we want it and in maximum quantity. We are paying an ever-greater price for it both monetarily and in our sanity and health. A growing and vocal minority are clearly aware that the nearly incomprehensible load of microscopic pollutants rained down upon the earth from dust and dirty hydrocarbon energy is taking its toll in health diminishment in all higher life forms from neurotoxins. They are concerned about where their energy comes from and how it gets there.

Wind energy is a source of power I have an interest in and in that regard, I made it a point this session to visit with Brain Rounds, a PUC analyst whose specialty is wind energy and power transmission lines in South Dakota. He spent a good deal of time talking to me about the state’s transmission system, where our power comes from and how it flows around the state grid, present plans currently underway and how cost allocation determines who benefits and who pays on a regional scale. It’s a complex marvel of technology salted with politics.

As many of you already know, South Dakota has enormous potential for wind energy farm development. The problem is transmission capacity, i.e. the ability to move power from generating farms to big eastern markets. The state’s transmission lines are already operating at maximum capacity. Constructing more lines takes 6-10 years at an average cost of $1 million/mile. We have the generating capacity potential but can’t afford the delivery system and it’s neither a simple matter nor an inexpensive proposition to build a few turbines to power a couple of small towns, either.

The Big Stone I coal generating plant will soon be retrofitted with scrubbers that will take 99% of the pollutants out of the atmosphere at a cost 3 times the original price of constructing the plant. This is federally mandated and will affect all coal burning plants around the nation, resulting in the closing down of the oldest, least efficient and dirtiest plants and the retrofitting of others with scrubbers or being changed over to natural gas. While this is good news, the problem of carbon in the atmosphere will still persist, and the price of this energy, according to Rounds, will increase up to 50% within the next 5 to 6 years.

Coal power plants retrofitted for gas also integrate better with the fluctuation dynamic of wind energy. All of these developments will increase the cost of energy making wind power more cost effective and attractive in the future. In the meantime, the conflict between extracting, burning, refining and transportation of fossil fuels along with hydraulic fracking for uranium versus the development of more benign alternatives of wind, solar, thermal and hydro will continue. In the largest sense, I believe this to be a battle between those that hold the planet in disregard (even if they claim to the contrary) and those that choose a healthy earth and a life on it. I’m not urging activism, just awareness that there are consequences in choosing not to participate in the dialogue or the struggle wherever you encounter it to affect healthy change.

This is my last report for the session and I want to thank all of you for contacting your legislators when necessary and continue to ask you to make your voices heard at city, township, county and state board meetings on behalf of conservation and the earth. Your input does make a difference… if not to them, then to you.

Edward Raventon
Sierra Club Lobbyist

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A comment from Lawrence Novotny, SDRC:

Thank you Edward, for all of your work on looking out for our interests.

Here is an example of the frustation of dealing with the legislative process. This is an excerpt from the February 7, 2012 The Antidote:

[Rep David] Lust, the Chairman of the House State Affairs Committee gave his disparaging commands to three proponents of HB 1098 that would have repealed a law passed last year which removed the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources from an oversight role in PowerTech Uranium’s controversial in situ leach mining at a site near Edgemont. The three proponents were Susan Henderson, a rancher from Edgemont, Dr. Rebecca Leas, from Rapid City and Edward Raventon, from the South Dakota chapter of the Sierra Club.

Before allowing the three to give testimony before the committee in support of HB 1098, Lust admonished the proponents to “be brief” because “we are going to table the bill” anyway. That projected action by the Committee turned out to be prophetic on the part of Lust as at the conclusion of all testimony on the bill, the Committee voted to table HB 1098 on a 9-4 vote.

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