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Conference to Focus on Indian Perspectives on Keystone Pipelines

March 16, 2012

This year’s American Indian History Conference will focus on Indian perspectives on the Keystone pipeline project. SDSU hosts “Homeland and Heartland: Tribal Responses to the Keystone Pipeline Project” Wednesday, March 28, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Volstorff Ballroom, Student Union.

Conference speakers include the following:

  • Tim Mentz, Sr., tribal consultant, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
  • Russell Eagle Bear, historic preservation officer, Rosebud Sioux Tribe
  • Charmaine White Face, Defenders of the Black Hills, Oglala Sioux Tribe
  • Phyllis Young, council member, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

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

*   *   *

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.

South Dakota Weekly Legislative Report: February 5-11, 2012

February 11, 2012

from the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club

Both HB 1081 and 1082, the so-called Mountain Lion bills, were attempts by Rep. Betty Olson to add new legislation to the original mountain lion management law. These two bills would have had the effect of watering down the original law allowing a shooter to use dogs and a smaller caliber rifle when he felt threatened by a lion. Not unreasonable in that regard, these bills however would have added loopholes and entangled what has generally been agreed upon as a solid management law currently in place. Neither of the lion shooters in the northwest part of the state who broke technicalities of the law was prosecuted. The House Ag & Nat. Res. committee rejected these bills and both were sent to the 41st day (killed) by solid 2 to 1 majority.

HB 1087 which would have limited the period of a conservation easement created after July 1, 2012, for a period of no more than thirty years was passed out of committee by the House Ag & Nat. Res. by a 2 to 1 majority despite what I felt was excellent compelling testimony by both John Falstich and George Vandel. There followed a good deal of consternation over its “do-pass” to the House by the entire conservation lobby et. al. It had a brief shelf life—only one day before it went to the floor and was decisively defeated 22 to 45. Thanks for asking your Representative to kill this bill.

Other conservation easement legislation was a mix of the good and bad. HB 1237, an Ag land valuation bill that came up last session, sought to shift the tax valuation of “highest and best” use of land (i.e. cropland) to an “actual use” valuation (i.e. non-cropland/grassland/slough/wetlands). It would have been a shift of some tax burden from non-cropland to cropland and would have provided an incentive to keep uncultivated land in pasture or grass. Like last session, it proved a tough sell to the state revenue department and big grain producers who opposed it. It was killed in the House Taxation committee.

HB 1240 again recognized the disparity in present tax valuation between cultivated cropland and lands specifically under conservation easement restrictions with a lower tax valuation. HB 1240 was an attempt to make easement lessors make up the lower difference in this disparity by forcing them to pay more taxes on their easements to equal highest and best use. It would have represented a significant cost burden increase for all conservation agencies, public and private, which own and manage conservation easements. There was little support and a great deal of opposition against this bill and it was tabled (killed) in committee.

Conservation easements are continually under attack in the legislature year after year as many thousand of acres now enjoy this status and are protected by willing landowners. A second-generation landowner from Marshall County came to the House Ag hearing to complain about how his 95-year-old father had put some of his land into a perpetual conservation easement that his son now owns and is now unable to sell for a new development. The easement of course is doing what it was designed to do, protect a valuable conservation tract of land, much to the chagrin and outrage of the third generation landowner who wants to cash-in.

Conservation easements, particularly those sold into perpetuity will continue to be a thorny subject for legislators to assess and tax. I believe the majority of those holding conservation easements are content with their situation while a tiny minority will always be unhappy with their situation. Conservation easement restrictions, equalization and taxation are proving to be a vexing complex of interrelated issues that appears to be morphing into an ever-larger, paralytic entangling maze. I expect conservation easement issues to be under constant scrutiny and attack from legislators in the future.

HB 1231 is a bill that I can only assume sought to calm the fears of citizens and solidify their support for “fracking” by trying to legislate fiction into truth. The bill stated that “hydraulic fracturing, a mechanical method of increasing the permeability of rock to increase the amount of oil and gas produced is deemed an acceptable recovery process in this state”.

Vague and non-specific, HB 1231 in my opinion was without merit whatsoever. Nonetheless, this bill had a large contingent of co-sponsors. It was however, deemed redundant and tabled by the House Ag & Nat. Res. committee.

HB 1262, a bill to provide a license for certain small scale mechanized gold mining operations in Black Hills was tabled by a close vote of 7 to 6. This bill had implications for disrupting sensitive riparian habitat in the Black Hills. Since it was such a close vote, I won’t be surprised if it comes back again next year.

HB 1111, an eminent domain bill that protects the rights of landowners who have to negotiate with large entities needing access across their property, received a solid “do-pass” (10-3) vote from the House Transportation committee and will go to the House floor for a vote. This is a good bill for landowners and we support it.

HB 1166 proposed using state funding to kill prairie dogs, basically more unnecessary persecution of prairie dogs at taxpayers’ expense. This bill was tabled (killed) in the House State Affairs committee 10-3

SB 179 would have made a $30 million energy infrastructure loan fund for the construction of electrical transmission and generator facilities related to renewable energy sources (wind). This bill was tabled (killed) in the Senate State Affairs committee by a vote of 7-0.

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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

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

South Dakota Weekly Legislative Report: January 22-28, 2012

January 29, 2012

from the South Dakota Chapter of the Sierra Club

There are only a few bills I’ll be watching next week. One is Sen. Frerichs’s Senate Bill 126 which requires TransCanada to file proof of an indemnity bond in the amount of five hundred million dollars that covers the operation and maintenance of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The indemnity bond will be available to landowners and counties to restore, by payment, any damages to land, infrastructure, or natural resources.

A pipeline indemnity bond bill proposal has been killed the last three legislative sessions. I doubt this one will have much of a chance either as one legislator, a co-sponsor of this bill told me—and I quote, “TransCanada owns the legislature”. The bill first has to get a “do pass” from the Senate Commerce and Energy Committee.

House Bill 1098 repeals certain provisions providing for the tolling of administrative rules dealing with underground injection control Class III wells and in situ leach mining relating to uranium. This bill seeks to re-instate the State DENR as the primary regulatory authority in monitoring the underground injection control permit by repealing the law they just passed in the 2011 session. It’s unlikely the legislature will undo what they just did given that the bill passed both houses with very solid majorities in 2011. Like TransCanada, Powertech Uranium, the company behind
the tolling of the DENR, has solid backing in the legislature. While all the uranium mining work is now presently under the regulatory authority of the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Powertech Uranium still has to apply for a water rights permit and a ground water discharge permit under the DENR.

HB 1087 is a critical bill I will be testifying against when it reaches the House Ag. & Nat. Res. committee. HB 1087 limits the period of a conservation easement created after July 1, 2012 for a period of no more than thirty years. 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. I hope and expect there will be a good turnout of conservationists and landowners to oppose this piece of legislation.

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.

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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In other legislative news, DENR Secretary Steve Pirner gave an assessment to the Senate Ag & Nat. Res committee last Tuesday regarding the current status of environmental issues in the state. I have bulleted his points as follows:

  • 1,900 oil and gas wells have been drilled to date mostly in the northwest part of the state. A digital file with a map location is available online for every one of these holes. Each hole also has a lithography record. Mr. Pirner stated that all this work was done at the request of the Governor who is strongly pushing for more oil and gas development in the state.
  • In total, the state has more than 100,000 drill holes of which 62,000 are water wells. All of these holes are also pinpointed on a digital map complete with lithography and/or a geophysical record. You can access this information by going to the DENR’s homepage.
  • Wharf’s gold mine expansion of 530 acres in the northern Black Hills was approved.
  • Dakota Energy, an oil and gas company has drilled two exploratory test holes west of Bear Butte. They are approved to drill five more.

Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones gave his assessment to the Senate Ag & Natural Resource committee last Tuesday regarding the current status of agricultural issues. I have bulleted his points as follows:

  • Agriculture is the state’s number one industry that generated $21 billion worth of income in 2011.
  • State Fair attendance was up 7.5% at 191,000 people all of which has been generating more exhibits and tax revenue.
  • There has been a decrease of noxious weeds (leafy spurge, knapweed, mullein, and toadflax) on 1 million acres in the state.
  • The department has been very successful in organizing the proper disposal of discarded pesticide containers.
  • The Mountain Pine Beetle infestation in the Black Hills continues to grow exponentially. MPB infestation doubled in 2010 and tripled in 2011. 400,000 acres of pine trees are currently infested in the Black Hills representing about one quarter of the entire forest with 95% in the National
  • Forest and the remainder on private property.

submitted by
Edward Raventon
Sierra Club Lobbyist

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.

*   *   *

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

South Dakota Legislative Weekly Report: January 10-14, 2012

January 19, 2012

Note: Sierra Club is sharing its legislative reports with SDRC.
Lawrence Novotny, SDRC

I want to welcome back all the readers of this legislative newsletter report from last year and thank you for your continued commitment and support of natural resource conservation and environmental protection issues.

The first week of the session did not produce any bills of any particular interest or concern. Often, the first week of the legislative session tends to cover housekeeping issues regarding old laws and minor legislation. Taking advantage of the lull so to speak, I set up a meeting with Luke
Temple, Dakota Rural Action lobbyist and Paul Lepisto, Izaac Walton League representative in Pierre. We all tend to share similar concerns regarding resource conservation and environmental protection and I wanted to learn what they were watching and working on.

Mr. Temple has been working on an eminent domain bill that protects the rights of landowners. He tried to introduce an eminent domain bill during the last session with safeguards protecting landowners from being “bulldozed” by big corporations but his sponsor backed out at the last
minute. He is drafting a new bill this session specifically designed to protect the bargaining rights of landowners who are being forced to deal with TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline. I liked what Temple outlined for me at our meeting. I’ll share the specifics as soon as a bill has been drafted
and introduced.

Last session I supported an attempt to get a $30 million bond bill approved by the legislature that would protect landowners in the event of a major oil pipeline rupture (Nebraska passed a $100 million bond). That bill didn’t get out of committee. I hope the fact that Nebraska was
able to set the terms on what they would accept as bonding compensation as well as an alternate route around the sandhills will embolden the SD legislature to do the same thereby gaining much better protection for the land and landowners. I believe a bill on this issue is being drafted now
and will be an important issue unless the Federal Government renders its moot by denying Keystone XL the right to enter the U.S.

Another issue that we supported last session was lowering the tax valuation of non-cropland (i.e. pasture/grassland). We got a good start with two new laws last session designed to reassess existing land use and values statewide based on what they actually are (i.e. cropland or non-cropland) as opposed to their highest income value potential. The next step will require legislation to actually implement a new tax valuation system. There was a good deal of pushback on this issue from the state revenue department and some grain farmers last session.

Taxation and valuation of agricultural land could be a hot topic with the meteoric rise of ag land values and ag commodities over the last two years. High commodity prices are putting more pressure on farmers to till every piece of arable land. This is already beginning to have devastating consequences for wildlife and wildlife habitat. This situation coupled with the reduction of federal dollars dedicated to CRP lands will continue to further isolate and reduce lands available to wildlife.

Mr. Lepisto foresees water management issues that focus on expanding drain tiling of potholes, sloughs and marshes disrupting natural water flows and threatening critical waterfowl production habitat in the eastern part of the state. It’s still too early to know how any of these issues will play out in the legislature this year.

While I will work hard to keep you posted on issues in the legislature and testify as needed, your input concerning proposed legislation is vital in everyway. Legislators pay attention to their constituents who make an effort to watch and follow them on what they are doing so I urge you all to get involved to the extent you feel comfortable.

It’s pretty easy to check out bills for yourself by accessing the SD state Legislative Research Council (LRC) homepage (http://legis.state.sd.us/) and 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 makes 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.

Submitted by Edward Raventon
Sierra Club Lobbyist, South Dakota Chapter

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