Trump's EPA wants to let a mining company dump uranium-laced waste water into Tribal aquifers.
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 consider 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.