The shortfall of Bob Mercer – and the SD Executive Board

Despite an overwhelming amount of grassroots support and 41 votes from legislators in favor, yesterday the Executive Board denied South Dakotan’s request for a summer study on mining issues. Representatives Kathy Tyler, D-Big Stone City; and Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka, championed the request, but the motion failed 11-3.

There are issues here I feel a need to respond to, in large part because of the confusion of issues at the legislative level and gross misinformation presented by Bob Mercer in his blog, Pure Pierre Politics.

First, at the legislature itself. In his opposition to our request, Senator Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, said these issues should be left to the experts and allowed to go through their usual permitting process. This is a refrain we heard time and time again during the 2013 legislature: let the permitting process happen, and if we need to do something, we’ll take care of it later. Two issues here: first, a permitting process only works to the extent that state regulations adequately address what is required in the permit – something many people feel is lacking in protections of water resources. And second, the permitting process is only one part of proposing, running, and closing a mining operation. What we were asking to be examined were things like reporting of permit violations, the state of South Dakota’s monitoring of uranium mines, a study of gold mine bonds to see if they are at adequate levels, and a study of the impacts of frac sands mining and potential needs for the kinds of regulation more informed states like Wisconsin and Minnesota are passing right now.

In passing the buck to the state agencies doing the permitting, the Executive Board has neglected its obligations to the citizens of South Dakota. There are too many unanswered questions about mining to “deal with it later,” as it were. A forward thinking approach and dealing with issues before they arise would be prudent – particularly when, in the case of mining, later is simply too late.

And second, to respond to Mercer’s misinformation. I do have to say, I follow Pure Pierre Politics quite closely as the blog does a rather good job reporting on the basics of the Capitol’s happenings, which I greatly appreciate. The shortfall is, though, Mercer’s severe lack of understanding of the issues presented at yesterday’s Executive Board meeting and his downright incorrect reporting about what happened at the 2013 legislature regarding the uranium bills brought by the Clean Water Alliance and supported by DRA members.

Mercer states there was no information given to the Board about specific inadequacies in South Dakota law. Those were referenced in the original request, as well as in subsequent emails and conversations both I and many of our members have had with legislators. I’m not sure if he was expecting references to specific statues or what – but the issues are clear, have been heavily discussed, and when it comes to frac sands mining, there wouldn’t be specific statues to point to anyway, as they don’t exist; that was the whole point.

Mercer also editorializes a great deal, inserting his interpretation of the events of the 2013 session rather than sticking to facts:

But we saw in the 2013 session some legislation that took aim at gold and uranium, yet the proponents didn’t show there was true danger. What they did show was fear. Some seemed intent solely to make mining developers go through additional hoops without any benefit to the general public or the environment other than costing more time and money. The Legislature, in my experience, sometimes will act on environmental concerns when shown that action should be taken for the benefit of the general public. That hasn’t been shown to be needed yet on the gold and uranium and sand issues. On the other hand, we don’t know, either, whether action is needed.

I can’t say whether Bob Mercer was actually at any of the hearings on the gold or uranium bills, but I certainly don’t remember seeing him there. More importantly, not once – ever – has he called up anyone from Dakota Rural Action or the Clean Water Alliance to discuss mining. We presented more data, studies, reports, and actual information about the risks of uranium mining than the proponents did of its benefits (many of which were outright lies). We showed the issues that have been found at uranium mining sites in Wyoming and Nebraska. Our testimonies were laden with facts and figures, as well as with personal stories of those who would be directly affected by uranium mining in the Black Hills.

Furthermore, Mercer’s comment that our requests would have had no benefit to the general public or the environment is purely his interpretation and is not correct – at all. Ensuring permit violations are reported in a timely manner, and ensuring our aquifers are not permanently contaminated for a temporary mining operation have clear benefits to both the public and the environment, but I get the feeling Mercer didn’t actually read any of the bills we supported, nor did he listen to our testimony or read the information we presented.

He does hit on one true point at the end – there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. That was what we were asking the legislature to help solve. They declined – so it remains, still, in the hands of citizen South Dakotans to work to inform and protect themselves.

And if helping people do so is our shortfall, bring it on.

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