Company plans to mine Black Hills for uranium while EPA permits are on appeal
“It’s the cart before the horse,” said Bruce Ellison, an attorney representing the Clean Water Alliance. “Let the feds do it first, before we [use up] our resources to see what they’ve been up to. ”
South Dakota Water Management Board Chairman James Hutmacher pushed back, saying Powertech, the potential uranium mining company, which wants to use a controversial mining technique to reach uranium pockets, had the right to appear before council, interrupting at one point Ellison, who was on a distant line, to get a word in.
“Mr. Ellison, stop for a minute,” said Hutmacher, a Democratic member of the bipartisan state council. “It’s all here, Powertech has the right to bring a motion to the board, and so do you.”
The contradiction, critics say, was whether to restart the state-level licensing process for a long-debated uranium project in the southern Black Hills.
Last November, Powertech received underground injection permits from the US Environmental Protection Agency – the approval they had been seeking since 2013 to extract uranium from the Dewey-Burdock formation, 13 miles away. northwest of Edgemont, SD, nestled in the corner of the state. near the Wyoming border,
But in late December, the Oglala Sioux tribe – whose western border is less than 50 miles from the uranium site and has significant historical roots in the Black Hills – filed an appeal with the EPA.
EPA spokesman Valois Robinson confirmed the Oglala Sioux tribe’s appeal to the Forum News Service on Wednesday, saying the tribe’s lawsuit had at least temporarily blocked permits, “now so their effectiveness “, and that the permits are now awaiting” the agency’s final action “.
Opponents argue that uranium mines would require significant water consumption, as much or more than the entire city of Rapid City, and the appeal filed by lawyers for the Oglala Sioux tribe invoked various federal protections, including the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Powertech officials, however, argued that the 12,000-acre site could produce 14.3 million pounds of uranium over a decade and a half of production. Uranium, proponents say, powers nuclear power, which, among other things, has low emissions. Recently, the Biden administration raised the possibility of subsidizing nuclear power to achieve climate goals.
Nonetheless, the project has drawn opponents, including the state section of the Sierra Club, who oppose the in situ mining technique, which relies heavily on water.
The confusion emerged at Wednesday’s state council meeting on whether or not speakers could voice their opposition. During the council’s public comment portion, Gena Parkhurst rose to oppose the permit.
“Powertech does not have all of the permits it needs to proceed with the state hearing process,” Parkhurst said.
But during the status update, Powertech attorney Matt Naasz told the board that the Canadian company had received “permits” and “assurances” from federal agencies.
“We intend to continue fully,” Naasz said.
Following the report and some procedural questions from the water management board, Ellison issued a critique of the process.
“Are only the interests of Mr. Naasz concerned?” Ellison asked. “I’m not saying that jokingly because that’s what it sounds like.”
A staff member responded, saying Powertech was “allowed” to file “any notice he wanted.”
“You will have … time to be heard,” the staff member said.
Uranium was discovered in and around Edgemont in the early 1950s. Since the boom ended in the 1970s, the town’s population has been halved.