They Want to do WHAT?

Trump's EPA Wants to Let a Min­ing Com­pany Dump Ura­nium-laced Waste Wa­ter into Tribal Aquifers

Trillions - - In This Issue -

Once upon a time, the EPA had “en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion” as its guid­ing prin­ci­ple. Now its guid­ing prin­ci­pal seems to be en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion.

Un­der Obama, EPA cor­rup­tion reached new highs but there was still some sem­blance of a use­ful agency. Since Trump has taken over, the EPA has been turned into some­thing else en­tirely.

A pub­lic hear­ing was held on May 8 and 9 about the id­i­otic pro­posal the EPA is con­sid­er­ing in­volv­ing South Dakota’s Black Hills un­der­ground wa­ter ta­bles and go­ing across tribal lands. It ap­pears that the EPA not only has com­pletely aban­doned that guid­ing prin­ci­ple but has also lost its mind.

The idea the EPA is cur­rently float­ing for those wa­ters is to al­low Azarga Ura­nium Corp. to carry out the first insitu ura­nium min­ing and waste-wa­ter dis­posal project ever in South Dakota. The plan of Hong Kong-based Azarga, if it goes through, would in­clude in­sert­ing 4,000 ura­nium in­jec­tion well holes di­rectly into the Inyan Kara and Min­nelusa aquifers. These are lo­cated on the Cheyenne River head­wa­ters within the Dewey Bur­dock site, ap­prox­i­mately 12 miles north of Edge­mont and 50 miles west of the Pine Ridge In­dian reser­va­tion.

Azarga’s plan would do more than just “pos­si­bly” cre­ate a prob­lem with ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion from ra­dioac­tive ma­te­ri­als if it goes for­ward. In recognition of what will hap­pen, as part of its fil­ings with the EPA, Azarga has for­mally re­quested the EPA to ex­empt it from hav­ing to com­ply with the Safe Drink­ing Wa­ter Act’s stan­dards. Sum­ming up the sit­u­a­tion, Bran­don Sazue, tribal chair­man of the Crow Creek Sioux, said, “The United States of Amer­ica is ab­so­lutely un­equiv­o­cally nuts – plum crazy – if this is what they plan on do­ing to [the] earth.” He made that com­ment in the pub­lic hear­ings about the pro­posal, held on May 8 and 9.

One could ar­gue that such a plan should never have been con­sid­ered in the first place by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties be­fore it even reached the EPA. That hap­pened be­cause of for­mer state leg­is­la­tor Mark Hol­len­beck, who, in 2011, ar­gued suc­cess­fully that the South Dakota leg­is­la­ture should sus­pend un­der­ground wa­ter pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions for a va­ri­ety of pos­si­ble projects.

Hol­len­beck left the state leg­is­la­ture soon af­ter­wards. But he was re­warded for his ef­forts on this mat­ter by be­ing cho­sen as a paid lob­by­ist for (who else?) Azarga Ura­nium Cor­po­ra­tion, one of the first ma­jor ben­e­fi­cia­ries of his hav­ing got­ten those wa­ter pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions sus­pended.

In ad­di­tion to hav­ing a for­mer state leg­is­la­tor on its team, Azarga re­cently added for­mer Na­tional Di­rec­tor of the Bu­reau of Land Man­age­ment, De­los Cy Jami­son, to its pay­roll.

With the state reg­u­la­tory by­pass in hand, Azarga ap­plied to the full EPA for fed­eral ap­provals.

In eval­u­at­ing the project, the EPA did some laugh­ably lim­ited analy­ses of the po­ten­tial risks of the ura­nium in­jec­tion min­ing plan. First, it lim­ited its analy­ses to con­sid­er­ing im­pacts of the project only within a 20-mile ra­dius, a value that ex­perts note does not at all con­sid-

er the lit­eral long-term en­vi­ron­men­tal fall­out that the ura­nium min­ing could pro­duce. With the aquifers run­ning within the area in ques­tion be­ing cur­rently used by both people and live­stock, the po­ten­tial for highly toxic pol­lu­tants trav­el­ing along those aquifers is cer­tain.

Se­cond, the EPA also stated that the project is not lo­cated on tribal lands and there­fore does not re­quire con­sid­er­a­tion of tribal is­sues. Op­po­nents say this is a bla­tantly false state­ment. They point out that, un­der the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie, the Great Sioux Na­tion has ju­ris­dic­tion over the pro­posed project site. Plus, un­der Ar­ti­cle 6 of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion, treaties rep­re­sent the high­est law of the land, su­per­sed­ing both the EPA’S pow­ers and those of any law passed by the fed­eral govern­ment or the state. If that law had been sup­ported, the tribes in ques­tion would have been con­sulted well in ad­vance, but they were ap­par­ently not even con­sid­ered as part of the process.

This is also in de­fi­ance of the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy Act, which states that if cul­tural re­sources pro­tected by the Na­tional His­toric Preser­va­tion Act are in­volved in a project (which they are in this case), the fed­eral govern­ment is re­quired to set up for­mal govern­ment-to-govern­ment con­sul­ta­tion with tribal of­fi­cials. That was also ig­nored.

As Harold Frazier, the Cheyenne River Sioux tribal chair­man, said about the sit­u­a­tion with some sar­casm clearly in his words, “I’ve noted there is no sched­ule for tribal con­sul­ta­tion [on the mat­ter].”

There are other ar­gu­ments to con­sider, such as what hap­pens after all of the min­ing cov­ered by what­ever per­mits are is­sued has been com­pleted. Is there any way to clean the mined site ad­e­quately after the fact? Ac­cord­ing to stud­ies by the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey, there is not a sin­gle case in which ISL ura­nium min­ing was car­ried out where it was pos­si­ble to bring the land back to pre-min­ing con­di­tions. Other tribes have long strug­gled with the en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­na­tion and health prob­lems caused by ura­nium min­ing.

Others note that if the project goes for­ward, it will also be close to im­pos­si­ble to prop­erly mon­i­tor what Azarga will be in­ject­ing into the site as part of its process, so on­go­ing over­sight is also a ma­jor prob­lem for the project.

That was all ap­par­ently ig­nored by the EPA. In March, it is­sued draft per­mits for Azarga’s project, along with a draft ex­emp­tion from the Safe Drink­ing Wa­ter Act. It did agree to a se­ries of pub­lic oral com­ment hear­ings and a pro­vi­sion to accept writ­ten tes­ti­mony through May 19.

The first pub­lic hear­ings on this were held in South Dakota on May 8 and 9. For those root­ing for the cor­rupt EPA, the hear­ings did not go well.

Henry Quick Bear, a treaty council el­der, at­tacked hard against Azarga’s plan, stat­ing that past ura­nium min­ing had “al­ready caused ir­re­versible con­tam­i­na­tion through­out the Black Hills and Bad­lands.” He also pointed out that be­cause of the pres­ence of ex­ploratory holes from those other min­ing tries, Azarga’s in­jec­tions could “al­low ra­dioac­tive pol­lu­tants to con­tam­i­nate un­der­ground wa­ter and runoff of aban­doned open pit mines.”others echoed what Ch­eryl Rowe, a res­i­dent of ru­ral Rapid City, said when she at­tacked the 2011 state sus­pen­sion of un­der­ground wa­ter pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions driven by soon-to-be Azarga lob­by­ist Mark Hol­len­beck. “This was an ar­ro­gant and un­der­handed thing to do to South Dakotans,” she said.

In the hear­ings, it was also pointed out by Bryce in the Woods, a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council mem­ber, that this is a par­tic­u­larly ugly project with es­pe­cially high risks for the Na­tive Amer­i­cans in­volved. That came across per­haps most poignantly when he said, in the lan­guage of the Lakota tribe, “It’s some kind of de­ceit when wa­ter is ac­tu­ally medicine and you turn it into poi­son.”lakota Mar­garet Ross built on that by re­mind­ing ev­ery­one at the hear­ings that “this is treaty land that we’re talk­ing about.” She went on to say that, with the Black Hills as where her tribe’s cre­ation story re­sides, “We’re all speak­ing for our chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and grand­chil­dren who have not even come yet. It’s crazy that you have the de­ci­sion to let us live.” She went on, beg­ging the EPA “to lis­ten to us and give us our life.”

As re­tired rancher Marvin Kam­merer, who re­lied on the Inyan Kara for a much-needed well for his live­stock some time ago, put it so suc­cinctly at the same hear­ings, “The Inyan Kara is a blessed gift, and ev­ery other one of these bod­ies of wa­ter is too. I am a ste­ward of the land.”

That this is even hap­pen­ing is a sad tes­ta­ment to the on­go­ing war be­tween the cor­po­rate greed of a com­pany like Azarga and those who trea­sure these lands as a sa­cred trust for them and their de­scen­dants to man­age for eter­nity. It is even worse – and prob­a­bly not co­in­ci­den­tal – that this pro­posal is be­ing brought to the pro-pol­lu­tion EPA at this time.

Fi­nal de­ci­sions by the EPA on Azarga Ura­nium Cor­po­ra­tion’s pro­posed per­mits and re­quested ex­emp­tion from pro­vi­sions in the Safe Drink­ing Wa­ter Act are ex­pected soon.

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